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Courage in a Place of Sadness: Nanise Volau-Vakaoqotabua’s story

Written by on March 6, 2024

“PICU is possibly the saddest place in the world, but it’s also a place where the most courageous people on the planet live and every single one of them are children.”


These poignant words were in a post Nanise Volau-Vakaoqotabua put up on her Facebook page as she continues to come to grips with losing her son Adriano who was only 11 months old at his passing. It goes without saying that the loss of a child is almost impossible to put into words but in an effort to navigate her way through her pain Nanise has begun journaling her son’s story. And not just her story, it is also a story about her husband Petero and their other sons Alusio and Silio and ultimately, it is a story about deep abiding faith and the hope that many of us hold on to.

Petero, Nanise and their boys after New Years church service, January 1st, 2024

From her Facebook journal:

When Adriano was born, he was all things considered, happy & healthy. Even as a newborn he didn’t cry loudly or keep us up all night, he was a great sleeper. Then we started to notice that he couldn’t lift his head when we put him on his tummy. Unsupported, his head would sort of just flop down. He wasn’t kicking his legs or swatting his arms around.
Twice during his monthly clinic, I told the nurses at Valelevu Health Centre that Adriano’s head appeared to be not normal.
Adriano suffered from Subdural Effusion, Acute Kidney Injury with Global Developmental Delay.

The brothers Silio, Adriano and Alusio

In another entry, she talks about grief, an emotion she has become familiar with, and describes the 14 days her and her husband would spend in PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) as her baby fought for his life.

Grief-a sound, a scent a smile becomes tears.
PICU is stark. Glass doors, bleak walls, minimal color. It is quiet until it is loud, with alarms signaling an emergency. The room is designed to care for the sickest patients in the hospital and house the most advanced technologies, doing the work of the lungs and even the heart. Yet for my husband and I, during our 14days, the most powerful interventions available, for us atleast, are compassion and love.
One week gone by, but the sounds of PICU are still with me. Which beep from which monitor to ignore and which monitor to take seriously. Suctioning in the wee hours of the morning and the constant vitals checks to ensure Adriano is breathing fine. Raw!
I was completely outside my element and yet, somehow, at home.

Smiling through the pain, Nanise puts on an optimistic face while spending every possible moment with Adriano

And fight he did. Whatever else, his parents knew their son was fighting with every frame of his tiny body to defeat the enemy that was constantly knocking.

The ventilator alarm woke me at 3:30am. The fourth alarm on this particular morning, our 5th day intubated and heavily sedated. It was February 26th on a Friday.
I looked over and saw his nurse by the name Ashana holding Adriano’s hands. “This boy is a fighter,” she said, her eyes fixed on the machine.
“Each time he coughs he sets off the alarm and when I move closer, he stops and falls back asleep.”
In her journal, Nanise talks about the lonely, terrifying journey, the feeling of being unable to help her son, her baby, this wee little thing she carried for 9 months and had such hopes and dreams for.
On the eve of January 23 around 9pm, our boy was wheeled to the Children’s Ward Procedure Room…
Took nine medical team to stabilise him, a heart-stopping moment and I felt completely detached, afraid, broken and lost.
I began to cry. Nothing else mattered, just the sight of the doctor opening the door and saying ‘Don’t worry he’s okay’,
Forty-five minutes later, they wheeled him out and straight to into PICU.
No words, just the sound of the hospital bed wheel. His breathing was labored, his oxygen saturation was less than ideal and, since it was only day two of his fever (teething) his pneumonia had spread throughout his lungs.
I couldn’t see anyone else except my husband, a bundled up-broken pile of helplessness.
The whole night we constantly dropped to our knees and begged for forgiveness.
Our sobbing, although quiet was subtly drowned out by the endless beeping of equipment encircling Adriano’s bed.
I looked around and couldn’t help but feel an emotional connection to a weeping mother who’s breaking down at the bedside of her daughter.
PICU is possibly the saddest place in the world, but it’s also a place where the most courageous people on the planet live and every single one of them are children.
Tragically sad but surprisingly hopeful environment.
The next morning, my husband and I watched Adriano breathing through the tube.
A lot of thoughts evaded our mind. That’s what PICU does to a parent. It gives them a perspective they wish they never knew. But with that mindset, we began to feel optimistic and hope that God will see our baby through.
We prayed and cried and sometimes we even smiled.

Baby Adriano

14 days.

14 days Adriano spent in the PICU as doctors and nurses tried everything they could to help him fight against this terrible condition as his mum, his dad and everyone who loved him hoped and prayed for the best.

On his third day at PICU the updates from the doctors started to rip our hearts apart.
We were told that we may have difficult decisions to make. They were trying to prepare us for his passing. I grieved what could happen that week, I wondered what life would look like if the Lord took him from us.
I was looking back since our first day and how my faith was tested.
I was praying for a miracle. And honestly, I was fully confident that He will as I was expecting Him to. But my miracle never came and, in that moment, I felt like my prayers had gone unanswered and I felt utterly on my own.
Sadly, Adriano Michael Vakaoqotabua was called to rest on the 6th of February, 2024. He was just 11 months old with his first birthday coming up in a weeks time.
The afternoon of February 6, I left the room for a few minutes to try to get some sleep at the Ronald McDonald Family Room. When I returned, I saw two nurses and a doctor leaning over Adriano.
My heart dropped and I started to panic. One of the nurses then signalled to let me in. They were enjoying seeing Adriano smiling through the Hudson mask every time he exhaled. Completely at peace. A serene, peaceful look, it almost feels he was waiting for the angels to take him home.
Little moments that creates a sort of beauty from heartbreak and every word I prayed that painful hour led me to Psalm 91. Repeatedly.
Nanise, even in the midst of her heartache mentions that the medical personnel at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit were among the most amazing human beings she had ever met.
And while I would not wish that anyone be forced to spend weeks with their child in an ICU setting, if they’re going to have to be there, I hope it’s one where the doctors & nurses make you feel comfortable. Where you are not just a numbered patient, but a real family.
Her Facebook journal also talks about her 2 other boys and how they handled their baby brother’s passing.

Love of a child- fully & deeply. These two are too young to feel the pain with stars in their eyes giving us hope that the world is inherently a good place.

Their little brother is peacefully sleeping in what they termed ‘Spiderman Cage’. That’s all that matters.

Alusio and Silio besides their brother’s “Spiderman Cage”

Adriano would have been a year old on the 13th of March and Nanise says she is still healing, still working through her loss and her faith and her family are what keeps her going. Somedays are bad, worse than others. Somedays she smiles.

And on good days and bad she prays and thanks God for her time with her son, no matter how brief it was.

Our 14 days at PICU taught us the meaning of life and how to be brave. It’s true what they say that troubling times give you great perspective. My heart grew with a fierce kind of love for my children during our journey. He was a fighter—and I am, too.
Our life and the life of our children are in His hands. He that his bigger than our problem and for that I am perfectly grateful.
I take comfort that we are closer to you in prayer, Noqu Tagane, Adriano Michael Vakaoqotabua.




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