Queenstown family seeking rental after hospital care 'uproots' them

by Lauren Pattemore - Jul 05, 2024

A Queenstown family is looking to return home after the unexpected premature birth of their son forced an abrupt relocation to Dunedin, however they are struggling to find somewhere to live.

New mother Jess McDonell says it's been a "rollercoaster" six months whilst her baby Thomas was in Dunedin Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, and on a ventilator for an extended period. 

"We literally just had to uproot and move...it's just so weird that I have not even been back to Queenstown since the 20th of December. I just can't even get my head around that," she says.

Ms McDonell and her partner decided to let go of their Fernhill rental whilst their son was still in hospital.

"It got to the point where our lease was ending, and we just had no idea how long we were going to be in Dunedin for.

"And, with a baby with, like, lung disease, we couldn't take him back to that house anyway, because he'd just get sick all the time. It was a cold house, it was damp."

They're now in search for a new house in Queenstown - where Ms McDonell's lived for the past nine years - after receiving the all-clear from the hospital they could take their baby home.

"He's doing pretty good, we are discharged and he's at home at the moment. But he's still on oxygen and has a feeding tube."

Ms McDonell posted on local Facebook page Queenstown Trading looking for a rental. 

The family is currently living in a Dunedin rental they also found via Facebook, so it's hard to do viewings.

"And with a dog, it's even harder...but I'm hopeful. Doors often just open at the right time."

Ms McDonell says they'll stay in Dunedin until they can find something in Queenstown.

"My partner will have to commute because he works a roster of three days on and three days off...It'll be back and forth. It'll just be stressful because I'll be here by myself."

The lower level of healthcare in Queenstown meant there were initial fears about returning.

"We've been here for so long. We know all the doctors and all the nurses in the NICU. Because he's [baby Tom] so complex, we were scared to go back to Queenstown, it's quite scary, because it doesn't even have the full hospital. The nearest place we'd have to go is Invercargill.

"The support in Dunedin itself has been excellent, the care here is so good...it's a shame it's not home and away from all our support network. It was really tough on my partner, Rowan."

When they return, Ms McDonell says they'll be moved to a new team, seen by different doctors and a different physiotherapist, and have their appointments moved to Invercargill.

She says they're "really lucky" her partner had a lot of annual leave banked up, and could take off a few months and stay in Dunedin with them in the earlier stages.

Ms McDonell had initially been sent to Invercargill to see an obstetrician when a midwife checkup showed high blood pressure.

"I stayed there for a couple of days with that obstetrician, and then it got to a point where they're like, 'okay, we have to send you to Dunedin'...in case I had to deliver because they can't look after babies less than 34 weeks.

"It was preeclampsia, so that can become quite serious really quickly, so then from Invercargill, they put me in an ambulance."

Rowan Gent, Ms McDonell's partner and Tom's father, looked after the admin side of things whilst Ms McDonell was in the hospital, including organising new tenants for their former Queenstown rental, bringing belongings from Queenstown, and retrieving Ms McDonell's vehicle from where she'd left it in the Southland Hospital car park.

Main image: Jess McDonell and Rowan Gent, with their baby, Tom.

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