When Trisha White took her young son to Rotorua Hospital because of constant, recurring ear and chest infections, she couldn't have imagined the path the journey would take.

Snotty nosed, with balls of cotton wool in his ears, and a cough, it didn't take doctors long to realise there was something much more serious at play.

Bronchiectasis and immune deficiency was the diagnosis. It all sounded like medical jargon to Ms White, but she'd later learn it meant he had scarring on his lower lungs, and not enough antibodies to fight off the bugs when he got sick.

Fast-forward 10 years and Ricardo, now a strapping 18-year-old, doesn't necessarily show signs of the sickness which saw him spend countless times in hospital, undergo 12 operations and become a regular at Auckland's Ronald McDonald House.

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It's that support from Ronald McDonald House, according to Ms White, that has seen the family come out the other side still intact as a family.

Ricardo still has twice weekly treatment of immunoglobulin to help strengthen his immune system, still gets knocked around by bugs more than the average person, but it's a far cry from his time as a youngster.

The first trip to Auckland, straight after his diagnosis, lasted four weeks.

Ms White didn't own a car and had to return to Murupara and buy one to make the trip. She says they looked like a scene out of television series The Beverley Hillbillies arriving in Auckland.

"We were exactly like that movie. People were honking their horns at us, we were trying to absorb it all. At that time we didn't know what he had or how serious he was."

Ms White said finding out there was this place, Ronald McDonald House, they could stay at was a weight lifted.

"The rest of the family had to go home to Murupara because they'd left the cat locked inside."

Walking into Ronald McDonald House was like arriving at a 5-star hotel, she said - a place of sanctuary away from the hospital.

"We spent most of our time up at the hospital. We were asking the doctors and physiotherapists and medical teams what do you do, what part of the situation can you help us with."

Since that first month-long stay he's had many others, too many to count according to Ms White.

Procedures included eight operations for grommets, having his tonsils and adenoids removed, the removal of a stomach cyst and then skin grafts over his ears so they stay dry.

"If you were to meet him you wouldn't think he was sick at all. He's quite a sick young man but he hides it well."

"When he does get sick he needs to go to hospital. We nearly lost him a couple of years ago with pneumonia.

She said having a sick child wasn't easy, but the support of places like Ronald McDonald House made it that much more bearable. Over the years the team there had watched him grow up from a sick 8-year-old to the strapping lad he is now and had become like family.

"They come along and give you a big hug. There's no way I would have been about to live up there for the first four weeks without their support. I'd be broke before the end of the first week."

She said it took a lot of the pressure off families. "I probably would have had a breakdown without them."

These days Ricardo is still having the immunoglobulin therapy twice a week, but has progressed from a machine that took two to three hours to do the infusion to a new process which takes 20 minutes.

A Year 13 student at Murupara Area School, Ricardo has played in Tai Mitchell rugby and been in the boxing ring.

"We try not to wrap him in cotton wool. He made it into Tai Mitchell on his own merit, we didn't tell them he was sick.

Over Christmas she took Ricardo and elder brother Ethan to Indonesia to visit family.

While the past 10 years have been tough on them all, "as a family we have held together".

"Give us that little inch and we run the whole mile."