Milk, butter, bananas, avocadoes, nuts, beans, feathers, grass… and the list goes on, because these are just some of the 30 severe allergies 41-year-old Heidi Rzysko’s son Bobby, 3, lives with. Thankfully, a Home-Start volunteer has helped to make a difference.

Bobby’s serious allergies have made Heidi’s world so much smaller as they have to avoid so many everyday items that pose serious risk to Bobby’s life. If Bobby is even just in the same room as any of these items he can get very poorly very quickly, possibly requiring an EpiPen to save his life. 

Alongside his allergies, Bobby also has global development delay, sleep apnea and gastro reflux. Bobby’s needs have meant it was impossible for Heidi to maintain a social life.

I was quite desperate

This changed when Home-Start in Suffolk got involved, matching Heidi with a volunteer and providing a safe play group for Bobby where he made his first friend, as Heidi explains. “I have a lovely circle of friends who I can no longer spend time with, we’re just on very different paths. It’s left Bobby and me feeling more and more isolated. By the time Home-Start in Suffolk got in touch, I was quite desperate.”

Heidi was a teacher with two little girls, Connie and Bettie, when the family decided to complete their family with baby number three. When Heidi had her daughters she had a wide network of friends who she regularly met at baby groups, soft play, local cafes and parks. But her experience with Bobby has been very different. Bobby can’t be in places where food is being cooked or consumed. His allergies are on contact, so if he even touches a surface he will have a reaction.

No longer able to visit those places because of the threat to Bobby’s health, suddenly the usual play groups and cafes where food is consumed became out of bounds, leaving Heidi feeling isolated, and worried about Bobby’s own isolation from the world.

We have to watch him, even when hes sleeping

Heidi said: “There’d be weeks when the only people I spoke to outside of my own family were specialists and health professionals from the hospital. Every conversation was a medical one, focused on the treatment and care for my son, Bobby. “My husband and I were worried one of us would end up in hospital through sheer exhaustion. Bobby doesn’t sleep and needs round the clock care and attention. Literally anything he finds on the floor he’ll put in his mouth, and his breathing difficulties means we need to keep an eye on him even when he’s sleeping.”

Home-Start in Suffolk matched Heidi with Michelle Fuller-Watts, a home visiting volunteer, to ensure Heidi got to see a non-medical face once a week. Michelle has been a volunteer with Home-Start since 2020. A mum of three, who’s been through divorce, postnatal depression, loneliness and has been a single parent, Michelle was keen to support families going through tough times. Michelle and Heidi have built up a very special friendship.

Heidi said: “Bobby quickly warmed to Michelle, as did I. We were really hitting rock bottom so knowing Michelle would be visiting every week gave us such a sense of relief. I no longer have the time to be in that rhythm of seeing friends regularly. Michelle’s visits go a long way to filling that social gap. It’s lovely to have someone to talk to every week who I’m not related to.”

Being a parent is one of the loneliest jobs

Michelle felt lonely at times as a parent and believes it should be talked about more. “Anyone who is a parent can relate to it being one of the loneliest jobs. Of course it is also wonderful, but when you just have small people for company it can be lonely. We tend to focus on the positive aspects of parenting, but not so much the negative, meaning parents can feel isolated and believe they are the only ones feeling this way.

We all need to be able to talk to someone and I’m pleased Heidi feels comfortable to be able to share with me any of her worries or concerns. She does so much for others so it is nice to be able to do something for her. Bobby is the loveliest little boy and it makes me happy that he likes to spend time with me. Heidi tells me she is so lucky that I’m able to take Bobby for an hour or so, but I tell her I’m the lucky one.”

Reducing isolation

Heidi and Bobby attend Home-Start’s weekly play group for children with special needs. This has also been a significant factor in reducing her isolation. Heidi said: “Bobby and I absolutely love it. He usually finds other children overwhelming and struggles with noise. But at this Home-Start playgroup he is right at  home, and there are plenty of volunteers at the group to help out. It’s the one place outside of our own home where I can relax.

At the group I’ve met another mum whose son is the same age as Bobby. We’ve since met a number of times outside of the group and the boys have started to interact with each other. Bobby has made his first friend. I couldn’t be happier.”

Read next: Three hearts of Home-Start

Subscribe to receive Family Matters magazine for FREE in the post