GOOD Friday will have a special significance for Natimuk's Sharon and Carl Sudholz this year.
Twelve months ago their youngest child, Benson, was in the Royal Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit after being born with oesophageal atresia.
The Sudholzs had been long-time supporters of the Good Friday Appeal, but the experience drove home just how vital the hospital's services were.
"There's so much I can say about the hospital," Mrs Sudholz said.
"The medical and nursing staff are so dedicated and so passionate about their work.
"They just work tirelessly for a positive outcome."
The Sudholzs were prepared for Benson's condition.
"We knew at 28 weeks gestation," Mrs Sudholz said.
"They were fairly certain this was the condition we were going to be dealing with.
"We knew we were going to be down there for a while."
Still, Benson's arrival caught everyone by surprise.
Mrs Sudholz was airlifted to Melbourne and gave birth to Benson at Francis Perry House on January 2, 2013.
He was quickly transferred to the Royal Children's, where he remained for four months.
Oesophageal atresia is a congenital disorder of the digestive system in which the oesophagus does not develop properly.
"Benson actually had a gap in his oesophagus and was unable to take anything orally," Mrs Sudholz said.
"When he was born they inserted a gastrostomy tube, so he could be fed directly by tube into his stomach.
"We had to wait until he was three months old - to allow him some time to grow - until they could repair the gap in his oesophagus.
"It's amazing to think they can even do these procedures."
Mrs Sudholz said Benson had his first oral feed at about four months of age.
She said he would always have difficulty with his digestive system.
"His oesophagus just didn't form like ours," she said.
"It doesn't quite move the food as well. Where it was repaired there is a stricture - it's a little more narrow. Basically it's like an hourglass, so it comes down, then gets a bit smaller and then gets a bit bigger."
Benson returns to the Royal Children's regularly for dilatation.
"What they do down there for families - amazing isn't the right word."
"That's where they stretch where they've repaired the oesophagus," Mrs Sudholz said.
"It had been every two months but we're trying to make it a bit more time in between."
Mrs Sudholz said although Benson's condition was initially confronting, the hospital's expert medical staff helped ease the family's fears.
"You have to put your trust in the people who know," she said.
"This is their field. They are so knowledgeable about what you're dealing with that it's reassuring.
"Their support of not only the patient, but of families as well, is just great.
"As soon as we told them we were rural, they just went above and beyond to help us with everything."
Mrs Sudholz stayed at Ronald McDonald House after Benson was born.
"I'm not sure what we would have done without that. To be so close to the hospital was brilliant," she said.
"The rest of the family came down to visit me when they could, but they had school and things here."
Benson has three big sisters - Bethany, 9, Olivia, 7, and Phoebe, 5.
Mrs Sudholz said they adored their baby brother.
"They're always looking out for him, making sure he doesn't put anything in his mouth that he shouldn't," she said.
She said although Benson had experienced small setbacks along the way, he was highly determined.
"He's extremely happy. He doesn't let anything hold him back," she said.
"Often people who have this have an oral aversion, but he has a go at eating everything.
"He's still on quite pureed food. He has to eat slowly and small-sized food.
"Whether or not he gets it down is another thing - but at least he's having a go."
Mrs Sudholz said she and Carl were extremely grateful for the ongoing support they received.
"We are very fortunate to have such great family and friends and community," she said.
"We had great support from the Natimuk Primary School as well, which definitely helped to keep things sailing smoothly."
Mrs Sudholz encouraged people to give generously on Good Friday.
"They should be able to have all the most up-to-date equipment and the best medical teams, but unfortunately these things come at a cost," she said.
"What they do down there for families - amazing isn't the right word.
"It's above and beyond anything you could imagine."
Mrs Sudholz said people could call 9292 1166 or visit www.goodfridayappeal.com.au to make a donation.