PARENTS Luke and Michelle Dridan’s Christmas wish is to bring their boy Blake home has come true.
The Ballarat family picked up Blake on Friday night from the Royal Children’s Hospital where he has been confined since February in his ongoing battle to overcome a rare blood disorder “tormenting” his young body.
Blake has no immune system, so even the seemingly simplest of outings can turn dangerous fast.
So many factors need to be just right for Blake to be stable and strong enough to come home to Ballarat. His parents are unsure how long Blake can stay home these holidays – they are just overjoyed to have the chance to spend some home time with him.
Football-mad Blake was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia, a cancer with which the body fails to produce enough blood cells.
Blake, then age 10, underwent a bone marrow transplant in March but his condition since has been a dramatic rollercoaster.
Under strong anti-rejection drugs, Blake developed post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease, a type of Lymphoma. To treat PTLD, he needs lower levels of the anti-rejection drugs but this, in turn, sparks an adverse reaction.
“This is a hideous disease in that it torments,” Luke Dridan said. “There is so much unknown about this rare disease that mostly doctors are treating symptoms and the doctors are amazing, but there is nothing certain about how he developed this...It’s been a tough road with a lot of complexity each step of the way.”
Blake was covered in serious, unexplained bruising on his arms and legs last November when the family doctor ordered urgent blood tests. In a matter of hours, their lives were turned upside down.
Their active little boy has not been able to do much at all the past 12 months.
A huge Ballarat-wide push leading into Christmas is helping to financially support the family as they continue to venture into the unknown.
Family life has been fractured with Michelle forced to give up work to be with Blake full-time in Melbourne while Luke continues to work and older sister Georgia started secondary school.
A string of major pubs and sports clubs across Ballarat are offering buy one, get one half-priced meals from $10 Blake’s Shout vouchers with each voucher purchased entering a major draw on Saturday night to win prize packs, worth a combined $10,000, pieced together by about 50 businesses across the region.
This build on consistent strong community support from Blake’s junior football club North Ballarat and his classmates at St Columba’s School.
“It gives you hope and a reason to keep pushing because you know if you’re struggling at all, people will be there to carry you,” Mr Driden said.
“That’s overwhelming that. So many people are going out of their way. It really is a ray of light at the end of the year – and a year’s a long time to spend in darkness.”
Blake’s sporting heroes have also stepped up in a big way.
A fortnight ago, Blake was 13th man for the Victorian Bushrangers in Sheffield Shield action at the MCG. He worked alongside Bushrangers’ 12th man, Ballarat cricket export Matt Short, in running drinks to Glenn Maxwell and Aaron Finch.
Blake was carrying a fractured kneecap – the drugs in his system have made his bones fragile and chalky – but he was determined to carry out his on-field jobs.
Richmond AFL players have also maintained constant contact with the one-eyed Tigers’ supporter. Blake was out on the ground for a closed training session leading into finals, the day after superstar Tiger Dustin Martin signed a record-deal at Punt Road.
Martin and Tigers’ captain Trent Cotchin also delivered a special video message this summer from the rooms, and on his 11th birthday in October, Blake had a visit from Tigers’ forward Jack Riewoldt and the 2017 AFL premiership cup.
Severe aplastic anaemia is the same condition Maddie Riewoldt, Jack’s cousin and sister to St Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt, lived with for five years.
The Tigers and Saints play an AFL game in her honour to promote Maddie’s Vision, fighting for improved treatment and a cure to Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re exhausting all options but our focus is on getting Blake well,” Mr Driden said. “We want to bring him home for good and try to pick up where our family left off.”
Blake’s fight vouchers are available at participating businesses and restaurants across the region, including all five Woolworth supermarkets in Ballarat, plus Melton and Maryborough.
Participating Blake’s Shout restaurants are: Ballarat Leagues Club, North Ballarat Sports Club, The Park Hotel, Squires Loft at Ballarat Steak House, Minerdome Sports Park, Golf House Hotel, Seymours On Lydiard and Lake View Hotel.
Blake’s Fight Fundraising Draw function is at North Ballarat Sports Club (Mars Stadium) on Saturday, 8pm.
For more details and to follow Blake's journey, visit: facebook.com/BlakesFight.