The toddler who can't chew

Rennie and Raquel De Petro with 21-month-old daughter Giuliana.
Rennie and Raquel De Petro with 21-month-old daughter Giuliana. Photo: Supplied/Queensland Times

When it comes to feeding 21-month-old Giuliana De Petro, solid foods are out of the question.

As a consequence of falling seriously ill last year, the youngster from Springfield, Queensland, never developed the ability to chew.

Her current diet consists of a high calorie-based formula or pureed food. Before that she was fed using feeding tubes.

"She is always willing to put the food in her mouth," her father Rennie explains. "Anything with lumps in it, though, she won't swallow."

Mr De Petro said the problem was a result of his daughter's ill health when she was nine months old.

"Giuliana started suffering high fevers and was taken to Ipswich hospital," he said. "Unfortunately, she became really sick during that important developmental period where the brain learns how to chew.

"Although she's not ill anymore, she has somehow missed learning that first step in digestion."

Mr De Petro said doctors had done numerous tests to try to find a solution to Giuliana's problem, but to no avail.

He said his daughter had also been seeing a paediatrician, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist and a dietician.

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"Unfortunately we haven't made any real progress," he said. "It's a real struggle trying to teach her how to chew."

While Giuliana looks healthy, she currently weighs 7.5kg, about 4kg lighter than an average 21-month-old baby girl.

The couple are now turning their hopes to a specialist infant and paediatric feeding clinic in Adelaide.

The clinic, Lively Eaters, is a private allied health practice which specialises in feeding and eating difficulties in children from birth through the early school years.

Mr De Petro said he and his wife Raquel were optimistic that the South Australian-based centre could offer Guiliana the help she needed.

"Ideally, we'd like to be returning home on the plane and have Guiliana eating the food on the flight," he said.

But the intensive treatment doesn't come cheap. In fact, it will cost an estimated $20,000, which covers the cost of admission into hospital for the week, the program and other expenses.

The family is now turning to the community to help their daughter on her journey to be able to eat and become a thriving, healthy girl.

Mr De Petro said he had so far managed to fundraise $2500, but needed to try and raise more before Guiliana arrived at the centre on May 25.

If you are able to offer any help, donations can be made via youcaring.com.

Read more at The Queensland Times.