FREMANTLE ruck coach Aaron Sandilands was at Optus Stadium with an eagle eye over his understudies when his phone rang during the round two clash against Greater Western Sydney last year.

As Sean Darcy and Lloyd Meek combined to give the Dockers an edge in the middle, Sandilands got word from wife Jenny that their eldest daughter Sloane was in emergency after a sore hip had turned into something much more serious.

Flu-like symptoms followed and the situation escalated, with Sloane induced into a coma within a day as a mysterious staph infection got into the nine-year-old's blood and eventually started to eat away at her bones and joints.

Sloane Sandilands at the Starlight Express Room. Picture: Supplied

The brave battle that followed and Sloane's subsequent recovery has inspired a massive fundraising effort, raising more than $90,000 for the Starlight Foundation ahead of this Saturday's Rottnest Channel Swim.

Aaron and Jenny have teamed up to make the 19.7km crossing to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth, with former Dockers Shaun McManus and Lee Spurr and friends Sam and Mel Gill.

It's a positive end to a traumatic 12 months for the family.   

"We didn't know what would happen and if she would pull through or not," Jenny said this week ahead of the swim.

"We just couldn't find the right combination of antibiotics with what the doctors were trying to do to stabilise her.  

"That was the most frightening time, and then having to think about telling our two younger daughters that Sloaney was in hospital and wouldn't be coming out for a while."

It makes you proud. Football was nothing compared to what Sloane went through

- Aaron Sandilands

After 10 days in a coma, requiring multiple surgeries and blood transfusions, Sloane emerged and was eventually able to move to the orthopaedics ward.

Her challenge was only beginning, however, with the brave year three student bedridden for the next five months.

For Aaron, who was revered at Fremantle for his bravery and ability to play through pain, it was a period that taught him about Sloane's resilience and positivity.

"Her approach was to tick the next box and what she needed to do to get back to where she wanted to be. For a kid of that age, it surprised me how well she handled the adversity and took the challenge on," Aaron said.

"You walk out of it with a massive understanding of how much you value your family and the people around you who are close to you.

"It makes you proud. Football was nothing compared to what Sloane went through."

For Jenny, it was Sloane's optimism that stood out during her recovery, with the usually active swimmer still managing to smile while bedridden.  

Her positivity was aided by the charity the Aaron and Jenny and their good friends have decided to swim in support of on Saturday, with the Starlight Foundation providing a distraction for Sloane during her long fight. 

Their fundraising push was boosted this week by a $5,000 donation from the Dockers.

Dockers great Aaron Sandilands and his family. Picture: Supplied

"We had seen the value Starlight could bring to very unwell children through Aaron's involvement, but then last year we were on the other side of the fence and we were receiving the benefits of the Foundation as well," Jenny said.

"Kids who are bedridden and having terrible things happen to them, the Captain Starlights move around freely and bring games and make balloon animals and the kids just love it."

Sloane's recovery has included uplifting moments as she moved from a wheelchair to a walking frame and then crutches, all while returning to school.   

Then at orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ryan Lisle's office at Perth Children's Hospital last December, the family received an early Christmas present.

"Sloane had a couple of scans on her leg and I remember she stood up and went to grab her crutches," Sandilands said.

"But the surgeon said, 'No, you can walk now'. He was happy with the plate and how the bones were starting to heal.

"To see the smile on her face was huge and a really cool moment for all of us. I'll never forget it."

Click here to donate to the Sandilands’ Starlight Express Swim