A 21st-style party for your child's first birthday may seem strange - but for a South Coast couple it's about treasuring the time they have with their little boy.
Mason Carlon-Suesskow was not expected to survive outside the womb due to a rare congenital heart defect which means he was born with "half a heart" - and he may not make it to 21.
That's why his parents Michelle Carlon and Michael Suesskow called up Dapto-based mobile cocktail business, Stir & Shake, to give him a first birthday party he - nor they - will ever forget.
And they've been overwhelmed by the generosity of Stir & Shake owner Paul Calleja who's offered to do the party at no charge - and other Illawarra businesses have followed suit.
"I don't want to be in denial about his condition - if we get him forever that's amazing, but if we don't I want to have done everything in my power to give him the best life possible," Ms Carlon said.
"We didn't think he'd be born alive, so I'm never not going to make a big deal of his birthday. Because every birthday he gets is one we weren't promised.
"And I just burst out crying when Paul offered to do the party for free because he was touched by our story - and now others are helping too, and it just makes your heart melt."
Mason was born on October 11, 2019, with hypoplastic left heart syndrome - which required him to have open-heart surgery at just five days old and then again at three months.
The couple - police officers who live in Vincentia - knew halfway through the pregnancy that Mason may not survive, but they wanted to give him a fighting chance.
"After our 20-week scan at Shoalhaven Hospital we were sent to Royal Women's Hospital for a fetal echocardiogram - once they saw the results they told us it was really bad and offered us a termination," Ms Carlon said.
"... We then had further tests and saw a cardiologist who told us half our baby's heart hadn't formed properly, and it wasn't survivable outside the womb.
"There were three options - to terminate the pregnancy; to get palliative care after the birth as our baby would die; or to attempt to save him.
"There were no guarantees that surgery would save him, but we committed to do whatever it took to save him."
Ms Carlon would spend months in Sydney, with Mason in hospital, while Mr Suesskow drove back and forth while helping with the bushfire effort in late 2019.
"He's evacuating people and keeping people safe; our house was nearly in the line of fire; and all the time our son is fighting for his life."
With Mason now home and doing well, the couple now wants a 21st style birthday celebration. And Mr Calleja, of Stir & Shake, said he'll do his utmost to make it an event to remember.
"I can't count the number of other businesses who've now come on board to offer goods and services or donate," he said. "Steve's mobile woodfire pizza, BNS Party Stuff, Normies Ice Cream to name a few.
"The Illawarra business community has got a really good heart - they band together whenever they can to help someone in need."
So as well as cocktails, there'll be ice-cream and jumping castles and plenty more for all ages to enjoy.
Ms Carlon said Mason was now healthy and happy, though tired more easily than other children as his heart had to work harder.
She now works closely with Heartkids and Ronald McDonald House to help raise money for the charities that helped her family during their toughest time.
"We spent time with families whose kids didn't make it," she said. "So we never take for granted the time we have with Mason, and we will do all we can to help others."
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