The long goodbye to 4yo ‘Liam the Lion’ who lost his battle with rare mitochondrial disease POLG

Liam Wigg was 18 months old when his parents, Daniel and Teagan, noticed he was not reaching typical milestones.

It was the first sign that their little boy was living with an extremely rare mitochondrial disease known as POLG.

“It’s a genetic disease that unfortunately we were both carriers for, but we didn’t know it at the time,” Mr Wigg said.

After the diagnosis the couple began to search for more information about Liam’s condition, the symptoms of which include nerve and muscle weakness and seizures.

“We struggled to find anyone locally that was along this journey with us,” Ms Wigg said.

Despite being non-verbal and having ataxia, a balance and movement disorder, last year Liam was able to start preschool just down the road from his Monash home, in South Australia’s Riverland region.

It was a chance to be with other children his age, to play with water and dig in the sandpit.

“Little toy cars, little toy trains — he loved carrying them around and playing with them,” Mr Wigg said.

Liam died in July.

He would have turned five tomorrow.

Teagan and Daniel Wigg share a close moment with Liam in hospital.(Supplied: Teagan Wigg)

‘Everything was hard’

Despite developmental delays, Liam was able to walk — but his movement was limited and he faced challenges with everyday tasks.

“Everything was extra hard for him,” Ms Wigg said.

“Feeding himself was extra hard — mitochondrial disease pretty much starves the body of energy, so the body can’t produce enough energy to function.

“He would become very tired.

In August 2019, two months before his fourth birthday, Liam started developing seizures.

He was sent to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide and his parents and younger brother, Chase, stayed with him.

Medication helped to get the seizures under control and Liam regained the ability to walk.

He was able to return home with a plan to manage the condition with medication and diet.

But before Christmas he was back in hospital and this time it seemed there was little anyone could do.

“He was pretty much asleep at that time,” Ms Wigg said.

Young boy sits in wheelchair in a family home, while a younger boy stands beside him holding a plastic tractor.
Liam’s younger brother, Chase, with Liam in their Monash home.(Supplied: Teagan Wigg)

Community remodels home

By March Liam had entered the palliative stage of his care, and the family was given the choice to stay in hospital or return home for his final days.

At this point family, friends and the wider community stepped in to remodel the Wiggs’ home to allow Liam to come home.

“If it wasn’t for the community there would have been no way we could bring Liam home, and that was our one wish,” Ms Wigg said.

The renovation included knocking out walls to create an open living area where Liam’s bed could be set up, right in the middle of the hive of family activity.

Even the backyard was remodelled to allow for Liam’s wheelchair.

“We had to change the house so we could do that, because we couldn’t leave a room and leave him alone,” Ms Wigg said.

A small boy in a bed, surrounded by lots of teddies and a machine, in a living room.
The Wigg home was remodelled to allow Liam to return home for palliative care, with his bed in the middle of the living space.(Supplied: Teagan Wigg)

‘Liam the Lion’

Liam required everything from bandaging pressure sores on his tiny ears to monitoring his medication, fluid and feeds, all of which were administered through tubes.

There were walks around the block to get a dose of sunshine and cuddles with the family’s rescue cat, Belle.

His parents documented his palliative care on a Facebook blog titled Liam the Lion, so named because of his strength in dealing with the disease.

Ms Wigg described the struggle of keeping him comfortable while the disease took control of his body.

“No matter what we try and no matter what infections he fights off, he will always remain in his bed, not able to move, unable to speak, constantly seizuring, constant medication going into his system through a catheter under his skin,” she wrote.

She said her heart broke at the thought that he may be scared, in pain, or needing a cuddle.

“I’m not sure what tomorrow or next week or next month holds for our beautiful Lion,” Ms Wigg wrote.

A young boy with a nasogastric tube lies with eyes closed snuggling a stuffed lion toy.
His parents called Liam “the Lion” because he was so strong in dealing with his appointments and medication.(Supplied: Teagan Wigg)

Seven months to say goodbye

The blog became a way to stay connected with family and friends and to document their last months with Liam.

“It helped us cope, it helped us get things off our chest and let us know how much love we had around us,” Ms Wigg said.

The seven months of palliative care also offered a chance to prepare for life without Liam.

“We were in such a horrible situation — we were so fortunate that we had seven months to say goodbye to Liam,” Ms Wigg said.

The Wiggs are hosting a fundraising toy drive for the HAS Foundation to raise awareness of mitochondrial disease and to support families with a child in palliative care.

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Police say 4yo Aboriginal girl was not assaulted in Big W store after reviewing CCTV footage

A young Aboriginal girl was “not grabbed or injured” when a Big W staff member checked a price tag still attached to a jumper she was wearing, SA Police say.

It comes as police say they have concluded an investigation into the alleged assault after reviewing CCTV footage from the store.

However, both Big W and SA Police have refused requests by the ABC to view the footage in question.

The girl’s father, Michael Donovan, reported a staff member to police last week after she accused Mr Donovan and his daughters of stealing at the store in Port Augusta, north of Adelaide.

Mr Donovan alleged that on their way out, after paying, a member of staff grabbed his four-year-old daughter by her hoodie in an attempt to check a price tag which was still attached.

He said his three daughters were all wearing new clothes, which had been recent gifts from their grandparents.

Police said it was “later confirmed that the clothing had been purchased from a different store but the price tag had not been removed prior to entering Big W”.

They said the child “had not been assaulted and the investigation has been concluded”.

Michael Donovan with his daughter.(ABC News: Gabriella Marchant)

George Newhouse from the National Justice Project is legally representing the family and said they were extremely distressed at the way they had been treated by SA Police.

“To release a statement without the courtesy of speaking to the victims, is despicable,” he said.

“The family contest the police version of events and are considering their legal options.”

Mr Newhouse said the family had also called for any witnesses to the event to come forward.

Big W team ‘trained to make everyone feel welcome’

A spokesperson for Big W said the retailer had been “proactively working with the police and shared CCTV footage to investigate the matter”.

“The police have verified the CCTV footage and confirmed that the family was approached by a customer service team member, but no-one was assaulted,” a Big W spokesperson said.

A large blue BIG W logo erected on the wall of a shopping mall in Australia.
The alleged incident happened at a Big W store in Port Augusta.(AAP: Dan Peled)

“Our commitment to the Port Augusta community is very important to us and our team is trained to make everyone feel welcome and treat customers with respect and kindness.”

The spokesperson reiterated the team member “could have managed the situation more respectfully and she has apologised wholeheartedly to the family for any upset it has caused”.

SA Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher said the incident had shown racial profiling was still an issue in Australia.

“We saw a couple years ago, Aboriginal people not allowed into Adelaide Oval for a Reconciliation Week game,” he said.

“Every time this happens, that brings back memories of even more racist times, it shows that we still have a long way to go and that individuals and organisations still need to lift our game.”

The ABC has reached out to the family for comment.

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