11/23/2013 14:41 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 05:59 EST

Abbotsford couple turn loss of son into respite gift

An Abbotsford couple whose son died after being severely brain damaged at birth have helped build the only respite house for children with disabilities in B.C.'s Fraser Valley. 

Doug and Andrea Froese's family will not benefit from the new respite centre they're opening in Abbotsford, but they hope other families will. 

"We're just thrilled for the families in this community that get to enjoy it," said Andrea Froese.

"I think that's what I'll be focusing on. The little kids that get to stay there and the moms that get to have peace of mind their child will be well cared for." 

The couple have named the centre after their son, Matthew, who suffered birth trauma that left him with severe brain damage. Andrea says caring for Matthew was a lot of work.

"Although he was a joy, he did suffer a lot," said Andrea. "His care required a great deal of time and energy on our part, and sometimes it was difficult for raising our other children."

Matthew couldn't walk or talk and suffered from seizures and respiratory problems — when the Froeses needed a rest, they brought him to Canuck Place in Vancouver.

But it took a lot of energy to pack up to go anywhere, and it felt like a long journey into Vancouver for just a little break.

"To find a place that had the professional care to look after Matthew, that was basically Canuck Place," said Doug. "And we thought it would be simpler to have a place like that in the Fraser Valley." 

The Froeses met with representatives from Communitas Supportive Care Society and after several meetings, convinced the organization to build a respite facility for families in the Fraser Valley. 

Matthew's legacy

In August 2010, Matthew died, aged only nine years old. 

But Doug and Andrea decided they would continue with their dream to build a respite facility in Abbotsford.

"We knew that there were so many hurting families who needed the help. We knew that we had more energy and time than we did before, and I wanted to be able to help those families in any way we could," said Andrea.

"But also, for our son. Because I think we felt a huge desire to see more purpose in all the struggles that he endured and we wanted this legacy left for him."

The house has five bedrooms and a playground, covering 4000 square feet in total. Doug said a lot of effort was put into making it a welcoming place.

"We wanted to make Matthew's House feel like a home. A lot of the design work went into making it look like it's not a hospital," said Doug.

To Andrea, it's about offering a little bit of respite for families just trying to do the best for their children.

"There's a place in our community now, where these beautiful, blessed children get a little trip away from their families, and their families can recharge."

The public are invited to look around Matthew's House on Saturday, Nov. 23, and the first visitor will be welcomed next week.