Customer Thomas engaging in therapy, placing a yellow ball into a red board.



Despite his difficult start to life, Thomas Marchetto is a bright and social nearly 3-year-old who loves his food and playing outdoors.

Born at 24 weeks gestational age at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Thomas spent his early weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) undergoing surgeries for a hernia, fighting a staph infection which developed into sepsis, while also battling a collapsed lung.

Thomas’s mother, Ashleigh Harman, recounts how during his 172 days stay she visited the hospital every day via bus and train to spend her days with Thomas, watching him grow and develop.

“I would go in from 9am and wouldn’t leave until between 4 and 5:30pm. It was scary not knowing what was going to happen, if he was going to make it the next day or not, but he came out the other end. It was a wild ride,” Ms Harman says.

“I got to see him grow and develop from the outside as he would from inside [the womb]. He had no cartilage when he was born, and I could just feel every day that it was getting harder and harder.

“But now he’s here and he’s healthy and happy and that’s all anyone can ask for,” Ms Harman says.

The story continues...

After his recovery, Thomas received Physiotherapy services at King Edward as part of their pre-term follow up clinic, which was available until Thomas turned one. At King Edward’s, Doctors diagnosed Thomas with Global Developmental Delay and parents Ashleigh and Jimmy were also advised Thomas may be on the autism spectrum.

With Thomas still needing the help and support of a physiotherapist after his first birthday he was referred to physio with Child Development Service.

Child Development Service then referred Thomas to Rocky Bay’s Early Start Intervention Program (ESIP).

ESIP is a 12-month research-based therapy program for children from 0-5 years of age who have developmental delay, or a diagnosis of a rare disease or a range of risk factors. Using a multidisciplinary approach of intensive therapy and support – including physio, occupational therapy, speech pathology and hydrotherapy – the program supports children to work toward individualised goals in their own home and within a community setting.

“Since being part of Rocky Bay and ESIP we now have access to Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy, as well as Physiotherapy,” Ms Harman says.

“It’s really helped Thomas because it gives me tips and tricks on what to do when they leave. They obviously have the training in that field, where I wouldn’t.”

How we helped

Rocky Bay Physiotherapist Ty Kowalski says Thomas has come far in the program and loves to give it a good go during therapy.

“Thomas has made some amazing progress. When he started in January, he wasn’t walking, showing delays in certain age-appropriate skills and not talking or making sounds. We were concerned around his mobility and communication levels,” Mr Kowalski says.

“Now with the program, he’s started walking, we’re working on getting up and down stairs, there is improvement in him brushing his teeth and he is engaging in joint play.

“We are making sure his skills increase his function and participation to play as Thomas chooses,” Mr Kowalski says.

Thomas’s 0-6 months goals were to raise two arms with demonstration when putting on or pulling off a t-shirt, to follow one stage instruction – “give me the ball” on three occasions, complete four steps without support to change his position and move towards toys of his choice, be able to start four blocks up.

“Previously he did tend to catch up later than his other NICU friends, but he has come such a long way for the amount of time he’s been with Rocky Bay,” Ms Harman says.

“Generally [kids] start walking around 18 months, and he was just starting to crawl when he turned one and just after his second birthday he started walking. He wasn’t doing any of that before ESIP.

“It felt so exciting to see his first steps. I was filming it and I just screamed so loud.

“I just remind myself that everything he does now, he couldn’t do months ago and that’s what keeps me going,” Ms Harman says.

Rocky Bay’s program sees therapists provide intervention in the home, so a child feels comfortable in their environment, and the family are afforded flexibility in appointments.

Ashleigh shares how an in-home service has made such a positive impact on the family.

“It was exhausting having to drive back and forth all the time to appointments,” Ms Harman says.

“Thomas tends to go quiet when we go to appointments, at home he is in his comfort zone and his safe space. He doesn’t not do something… unless he decides to be stubborn!”

Ashleigh says Rocky Bay Physiotherapist Ty Kowalski and Occupational Therapist Brooke Chamberlain are a big part of their village.

“They have really become like our family; we see them so much and they help so much. It’s nice to have other people cheer Thomas on,” Ms Harman says.

With considerable progress made Thomas’s 6-12 months goals have been set. Thomas’s future goals will include raising two arms while putting on and pulling off a t-shirt, engaging in turn taking during a game of rolling the ball, stepping over a hurdle without support and placing two shapes into the correct hole with verbal and gestural prompt.

Ashleigh describes Thomas as a cheeky playful young boy who loves partaking in Rocky Bay’s playgroups, also part of ESIP.

“He’s so funny, there is never a dull moment with him he just has me in stiches every day,” Ms Harman says.

For more information on Rocky Bay’s Early Start Intervention Program and eligibility, those interested can visit Rocky Bay website or email Early Start Intervention Program Coordinator, Cristina Lee, at [email protected].

A few words


I just remind myself that everything he does now, he couldn’t do months ago and that’s what keeps me going

- Ashleigh (Thomas's Mum)

Customer Thomas engaging in therapy, playing with bubbles.

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