AS A League footballer of 182 games and 13 seasons experience with both Sydney and Carlton, David Rhys-Jones constantly fronted the many and varied challenges the great Australian game posed. 

But in the game of life through the lockdown brought on by a global pandemic, the challenges confronting the 1987 Norm Smith Medallist as husband and father are vastly different.

David is Dad to 16 year-old Cooper Rhys-Jones, who was born with Prader-Willi Syndrome - a rare and complex non-inherited genetic spectrum disorder which reduces the average life expectancy for someone with the disorder to just 37 years. 

Prader-Willi Syndrome is a lifelong condition in which several genes on the 15th chromosome are missing or not completely formed, leading to individuals developing insatiable appetites – often referred to as a ‘starvation syndrome’.

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This leaves families in the unenviable position of having to closely monitor the eating habits of those with the syndrome - and in many instances necessitating the locking of fridges and food cupboards. 

Not surprisingly, much of David and wife Cherie’s days are taken as Cooper’s carers.

“The old footy adage was ‘one game a time’, but in this instance, it’s ‘one day at a time’. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is, Rhys-Jones said. 

“Footy was a lot easier. Life throws up so many challenges and this is just one of them. 

“Cooper basically needs 24 -hour supervision. He experiences a lot of anxiety and as a result Cherie and I probably don't go out as much as you don’t know when or where Cooper could have a melt-down. He can go from no problem to meltdown in a number of seconds. We can be out with him and there’s no rhyme and reason.”

 

Regardless, both Cherie and David and all their children have found ways to thrive and boost each other’s spirits – as most Melbournians have also done to find a way through COVID-19.

Recently, father and son took the opportunity to don PWSA VIC facemasks for not-for-profit charity group Prader-Willi Syndrome Association of Victoria (PWSA VIC) – a body of staunch supporters of the cause who provide hands-on help for disadvantaged individuals, like Cooper, living with Prader-Willi Syndrome – of whom Rhys is the Ambassador of the charity group. 

In an effort to raise awareness and spark conversation on the condition PWSA VIC are boosting PWS community members spirits during lockdown with their very own facemasks – produced by CGR Sportswear, the company of Carlton sponsor and supporter Patrick Prendergast who is donating 50 per cent of all mask sales to the association.

“As we isolate in our homes, some angry, many scared - it is important to remember the disadvantaged groups and charities in Melbourne – and Victoria - that we are protecting through our efforts to isolate, stay safe and stay home,” said Rhys-Jones, an Ambassador for PWSA VIC. 

“The one thing we try to promote is an awareness.”

To purchase the facemasks or donate to the cause, go to www.pwsavic.org.au/information