All Ralphi-Lee Rance really wants is to be just like other teenagers his age.
But for many years that’s simply not been possible – causing the 16-year-old to become angry and frustrated with life at times.
Born with a raft of complicated health problems, Ralphi’s already had a lifetime of struggle to contend with.
While his mates have been free to get on with life and do all the normal things teenage boys want to experience, Ralphi’s had to watch from the sidelines.
Regular stays in hospital, more than 30 operations and a strict medication regime have put a stop to activities that other lads his age take for granted.
There are no late nights or sleepovers for Ralphi because for nine hours a night he’s hooked up to the feeding machine that makes sure he gets all the nutrients he needs to grow.
A tube delivers the pre-digested milk he relies on and the chronic respiratory disease he suffers from makes it hard for him to run around and be active.
‘It’s been really difficult,’ explains Ralphi, from Drayton, Portsmouth.
‘My medication has been my life and my illness has definitely taken over.’
Ralphi was born with a gap in his food pipe and under-developed lungs. As a baby he had surgery to correct some of the problems with his food pipe and the wind pipe which doctors had found was joined to it.
So severe were his problems that his mum, Debby, was warned Ralphi might not make it to his fifth birthday.
Yet he overcame many of the challenges he’d experienced as a toddler, only to suffer a devastating setback when he was 10.
When the family realised Ralphi wasn’t growing, further tests revealed his body wasn’t absorbing any of the nutrients from the food he was eating. He had to go back to using a feeding tube and, not surprisingly, Ralphi found that hard to cope with.
His family watched him become angry and upset. But against all the odds, Ralphi has now found a way to accept all that has happened to him – and that’s thanks to the Havant-based charity which has proved he can be just like everyone else.
Over The Wall runs activity camps for children like Ralphi (see panel).
All those who go have medical problems and the charity also runs sibling camps for brothers and sisters.
Ralphi went on his first five-day camp in Dorset last year and loved it so much he went back for a return visit this year.
Staying away from home for the first time was daunting at first, but Ralphi reveals how he made friends and went kayaking and climbing.
Spending time with other children who’ve had problems of their own has helped this bright and chatty lad come to terms with the struggles he’s faced.
‘I have found it very difficult to cope,’ admits Ralphi, a Portsmouth College student, currently working towards taking his GCSEs.
‘My emotions were everywhere. It was a big mess and my illness made me feel different because I couldn’t do things that everyone else could do.
‘But there are a lot of things I can do now and when I was on the camp I found it very reassuring.’
He adds: ‘I like the activities and all the other people I’ve met.
‘Everyone talks about what it’s like at home for them and some of the others have made me realise that I’m quite lucky.
‘I used to think what had happened was everybody’s else’s fault.
‘I used to feel alone and isolated, like I was different from everybody else because I hadn’t met anybody like me.
‘But everyone who is at camp has had medical admissions. It’s nice to know that I’m not isolated at camp. I can be normal.’
Of course, life has also been difficult for the rest of the family, including Ralphi’s brothers Kyle, 12, and six-year-old Dylan.
Family life has been dominated by Ralphi’s health and Debby says everyone else’s needs have had to come second.
When she found out about Over The Wall, she thought Ralphi’s health problems would be too complex for him to be included.
So she was delighted when the team of experienced medical staff, responsible for looking after the children when they’re away, reassured her that Ralphi would be fine.
‘He was a different child before he went to the first camp,’ she adds.
‘We were lucky he got to go because he needs so much care. There was a lot involved in him being away from home for the first time, but he came back a different child.
‘He had this acceptance. It was something that we couldn’t really explain. But he went away a very angry and confused boy and came back with this new-found understanding.
‘He still has times when he gets upset, but meeting and spending time with other children who’ve got worse conditions than him has helped him say “It’s not so bad”.’
Debby was told Ralphi would have problems when she was 32 weeks’ pregnant.
A scan had revealed she was carrying too much amniotic fluid and she was warned that her baby might be born without a stomach.
‘There were just multiple things wrong when he was delivered,’ she adds.
‘One problem led to another and he got to about a year old and he’d already had 16 operations.
‘They said he would never walk or talk. We celebrated his fifth birthday with a frenzy because they said he wouldn’t make it to five.
‘He has a sheer hunger for life. Out of the two of us he’s definitely the stronger one.’
The family are so grateful for the way Over The Wall has changed their lives that Ralphi and step-dad Paul are now gearing up to take part in a charity abseil next month.
Side-by-side they’ll make their way down the 12-storey Mercantile House in Southsea to raise much-needed funds for the charity.
It will take nerves of steel but Ralphi is determined to see it through.
‘I’m looking forward to it,’ he adds. ‘I’ll probably be a bit nervous but I’ll do it.
‘Over The Wall has helped me out and given me more confidence. I want to tell everyone to help us raise money for Over The Wall so that they can send more people to camps.’
Debby adds: ‘I can’t praise Over The Wall enough for what they’ve done.
‘There are no words to explain the difference they make to these kids’ lives.
‘No obstacle is too big for them, they are amazing.’