Max Aldridge, aged 17 Attended the Centre from aged 8 weeks to approx 3 years In August, Max sang as part of He Says, She Says, a variety performance put on by Blackboard Theatre Collective as a fundraiser for the Champion Centre. Max, who had impressed music specialist Julie Wylie with his lovely singing voice even as a toddler, sang so beautifully that he was given a standing ovation.
However, Max’s early start in life was fraught with many challenges. Max spent his first 27 days of life in an incubator in intensive care as he was born with pneumonia, an infection that moved to septicaemia, and contracted meningitis which delayed his development and put him at significant risk of disability. An MRI scan identified permanent damage to the right part of his brain, which was expected to affect the motor skills on the left side of his body. Max’s parents, Carmen and Kirk, were twice told that baby Max was not going to survive.
When I ask Carmen about their experience of first coming along to the Champion Centre she says, ‘as parents we just entered into the process. We went along twice a week and trusted the Centre to do the best for the future quality of life for our baby. Our first impression was that they were very open.’ ‘The therapist we worked with was very friendly, and we embarked on our journey with Max. I can remember the stations we moved around.’ Carmen says they didn’t feel isolated as they were always with other families. ‘It was all very transparent, with respect shown and no comparison with other children or families.’
Max entered the early intervention programme at 8 weeks of age and, despite the severity of his initial condition, was reaching his milestones by age 3 or 4. ‘I was always comparing Max to other children and seeing what developmental milestones they were achieving,’ says Carmen. However, when Max started primary school, he showed no definitive disability, but they were always careful of his head because of his early meningitis. Max had seizures until the age of 8.
The first time Max walked back into the Champion Centre, after about 13 years, he recognised the rocking horses in the music room and the train-patterned wallpaper. ‘Memories came flooding back, I even found the smell of the surroundings familiar,’ says Max.
Max has always shown sheer determination and pure grit. ‘Life is short, there is so much to live for so take every opportunity as there is no point sitting around being sorry for yourself,’ says Max.
Now a year 12 student at Burnside High, Max is in the specialist music programme. In year 8 he earned the Most Promising award at the New Zealand Jazz Competition. But life is not always centred around the performing arts for Max, as sport is his current pursuit of choice. These holidays he has been spending 30 hours a week playing and coaching tennis. He has bounced from sport to sport as ‘I was pretty accident prone’, says Max. ‘So much so I spent a large part of intermediate school on crutches due to a bike incident.’
The odd issue crops up now, but they are far and fair between, such as Max learning to drive in an automatic car as he has problems co-ordinating the left and right movement in a manual vehicle.
Max has always shone academically. He was in the Gifted and Talented programme in primary school, with a talent for maths and then was in extension classes for English.
When I ask Max what kind of person he has/or is becoming as a young man, he replies, ‘I’m the guy who people come to when they want to talk.’
For a young man he appears to have great insight and empathy. ‘People go through things like this, big hurdles, but they don’t see the lessons. I see the importance of not judging a book by its cover. Show empathy and understanding,’ comments Max.
So, what does the future hold for Max? ‘I want to be able to change people’s lives, like the Champion Centre changed mine,’ says Max, very humbly.