Every winter morning on the trip to his Hokitika preschool, five-year-old Lachie Connell would ask his dad to keep on driving to the Southern Alps so he could “go camping in the snow”.
But that dream was put on hold when the boisterous little boy, who loves dinosaurs and “going real fast”, was diagnosed with leukaemia on August 31 last year – on his mother’s birthday.
That night, Lachie and his parents, Jeanne and Pat Connell, arrived in Christchurch for emergency treatment after the three-hour drive from their West Coast home.
They haven’t been home since.
Jeanne and Pat had to close their coffee-cart business and have been living at Christchurch’s Ronald McDonald House with their two other children, 16-year-old Silas and two-year-old Malachi, for a year while Lachie undergoes chemotherapy.
But the “incredibly brave and strong” boy spent the first anniversary of his cancer diagnosis miraculously skiing at Coronet Peak and soaring over Lake Hayes Estate in a hot-air balloon.
“When we were driving to Christchurch for treatment, we didn’t know if he was ever going to be well enough to go to the snow,” Pat tells Mountain Scene.
The Connell family has just returned home from the week-long trip, during which they stayed at the Child Cancer Foundation’s Arrowtown holiday home.
But what they expected to be quiet time away from hospitals turned into an action-packed “trip of a lifetime” thanks to the generosity of the Queenstown and Arrowtown communities.
A friend, who lives locally but who bonded with the Connells when she was at Ronald McDonald House with her sick child, took to Queenstown Trading to see if anyone could make their trip special.
The post saw an outpouring of support from local businesses wanting to help.
The family holiday was jam-packed with the big ticket items, including AJ Hackett Bungy, Skyline gondola and luge, Sunrise Balloons, KJet and Shotover Jet, and a ride in a firefighter truck – just to name a few.
A long list of local restaurants helped feed the family by donating dinner vouchers and hampers.
“The whole thing has been absolutely phenomenal, and there are just so many people to thank,” Pat says.
But hitting the slopes at Coronet Peak was the highlight because of the significance in Lachie’s recovery.
“Lachie has just had the most fantastic time.”
But the fight isn’t over for little Lachie, who’ll undergo chemo-therapy until November 2021.
Fortunately, he has a 90 per cent chance of survival, and hopefully many more days playing in the snow.