Shane McCarter was only 12 when he first sat in Tim Conolan’s office, the founder of TLC for Kids, the charity that provides immediate relief for sick kids and their families.
Because of Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disorder affecting the lungs and digestive system, Shane’s young life had been a series of admissions to the Royal Children’s Hospital for stays or two or four weeks.
But the reason the boy had asked for the meeting had nothing to do with his own circumstances. Rather, it was about his good mate, Brodie, who he had met in hospital.
Brodie also had Cystic Fibrosis, and the future wasn’t looking good. He wasn’t going to make it to his 15th birthday.
So Shane pitched his idea to Tim: let’s give Brodie his 15th birthday party now. Tim Conolan agreed on the spot and made it happen.
Brodie loved Coca-Cola, so it was a Coke-themed party – the cake, for example, was shaped like a Coke can. Hospital staff, and Brodie’s family and friends came to the party, in the rec room attached to the adolescent ward.
‘It was just a really fun day,’ recalls Shane. ‘And it wasn’t long after that that Brodie passed away.’
Shane’s TLC for Kids connection continued. After a long and sometimes difficult journey, Shane, now 31, is working with Tim Conolan and TLC for Kids again. He is relishing being at the organisation that helped his mate Brodie and then helped him through his own challenging years of school and early adulthood.
Shane (pictured above with Leanna Babet and Zoe Herbert) runs the organisation’s Tracky Dack Day, being held this year on 31 August. It’s a fundraising and awareness day where people ‘dack up and donate’ by wearing their tracky dacks to school or work, a fashion statement of solidarity with kids in hospital.
In hospital, health care professionals encourage kids to get out of their gowns and pyjamas to wear everyday clothes, such as tracky dacks, in an effort to give them some normalcy.
This year, Independent Schools Victoria is getting behind the day, spreading the word to the more than 200 Member Schools. You can find out more and register here.
For schools, it’s a simple idea that can turn a casual clothes day into a fundraising event that can have a real impact on young lives. Students are simply asked to make a gold coin donation.
The Fire Brigade of Children’s Charities
TLC for Kids provides immediate distraction, and practical and emotional support to sick children and their families.
Regarded as the ‘fire brigade of children’s charities’, it responds within 24-48 hours during critical times of crisis and hardship, regardless of illness, condition or background.
This can be funding for respite care, finding specialty toys, medical equipment, helping the family with household bills, organising events for special occasions, such as birthdays or weekends away for the family.
The group also provides ‘Distraction Boxes’ of items and activities to hospitals and health care facilities. They help children through sometimes frightening and painful procedures.
Tim Conolan established TLC for Kids in 1998, and since then the team has provided relief over 7 million times for sick kids and their families. In 2014, Tim’s work was recognised when was awarded Australia’s Local Hero in the Australia Day awards.
In the lead up to Tracky Dack Day, Shane is available to come to schools and speak to students about the work of TLC.
His message has the authenticity of someone who knows exactly what TLC for Kids can mean for a young life.
Shane explains that TLC was a massive part of his teenage years. He came from a broken family and was in and out of hospital all the time. ‘I don’t want to say ‘Poor me’, but I would sometimes go days without visits and that sort of thing,’ he says.
Along with hospital staff, TLC helped out with activities such as a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Queensland and support through his school years. He missed more than half of his VCE year through illness. ‘If it wasn’t for the school and the hospital, I wouldn’t have been able to do my VCE.’
Then, it was more practical support from TLC for Kids, such as grocery vouchers and putting petrol in his car.
He initially worked with his wife’s graphic design business from home, and they ended up running a merchandise business for some of Australia’s biggest music acts.
Almost six years ago, he was to be listed for a lung transplant. He asked the doctor for four more weeks while he tried a new gene therapy drug called Kalydeco. ‘It completely changed my life,’ says Shane.
With much improved health, thanks to Kalydeco, he worked for three years as a tram driver, whilst also working part time in the home business. Then the opportunity emerged to work for TLC for Kids, and the chance to give back to an organisation that has given him so much over the years.
‘You can say thank you as many times as possible, but it doesn’t really give the full appreciation of what TLC for Kids have done for me in my life,’ says Shane.
It is the perfect job for the man who as a 12-year-old fronted up to seek the charity’s help to give a dying mate a birthday party. Shane has a framed photo at home, taken of Brodie on the day, that has pride of place among many cherished memories.
To get involved with Tracky Dack Day on the 31 August, simply head to trackydackday.com and register.
Main image courtesy of TLC for Kids and the Herald Sun.
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