Helping kids in hospital ward off Christmas blues
As Christmas is a particularly special time of the year for children, staff at hospitals do everything in their power to ensure sick children spend December 25 – or a least a few hours of it – at home with their loved ones.
The Belfast Telegraph visited some very special boys and girls at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) and the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald to find out how they were getting on this festive season.
Up to 50 of the 90 or so children currently in the RBHSC will spend Christmas Day there.
Jenne McDonald, a play co-ordinator at the RBHSC with more than 25 years' experience, said: "Our role is to make the child's stay in hospital as happy and as positive as it possibly can be.
"As you can imagine Christmas is one of the most important times in a child's year, and we want to make it as much fun as we can and to try and bring the normal things that they do outside the hospital into this environment.
"We have lots of activities. A huge amount of art and craft, where they can make all kinds of decorations and they can decorate round the bed and make things to take home and presents for family.
"We just had a carol service today and we have Jumping Clay, the medical staff do a pantomime and we have a grotto a couple of times a week where they can come down with their Christmas list and meet Santa Claus."
All kinds of parties take place on the wards. "Anything to make being here that little bit easier," Jenne added.
"On Christmas Day they will have a present from Santa Claus, from the hospital and then their parents will obviously also bring in their Santa Claus presents, and the family are encouraged to come and have Christmas dinner.
"It will really only be the children who are most acutely ill who will stay on Christmas Day. If we can possibly get them home, even for a few hours, we will try because it's that important."
Jenne added the RBHSC was "a very positive place".
"Obviously things happen and it's very sad and you try to support the parents, because they are the people left but, in general, medicine has advanced so much now and you are able to do so much more that it's really not a sad place," she added.
"It's far more positive than the sadder things that happen."
Wee John has nurses eating out of his hand
John Morrow (7) from Millisle
John is quite a character. Full of questions and chatter, he entertains staff and other children at the RBHSC while receiving dialysis treatment three times a week. He needs a kidney transplant.
He is mainly cared for by his father Sidney and foster parents John and Sandra Weatherill.
John said: “I love Christmas. I like all the presents I get. I was at school today making a card for daddy. He is ordering an iPad for me from Santa.
“I love Sandra’s house. Sandra has a cat Darcy that’s not quite used to me yet. Her ears wiggle when she sneezes.”
When the Belfast Telegraph told John that the staff at RBHSC said they all “love him to pieces”, he said: “I suppose you’re completely right. I’m a clever wee man, sometimes.”
And he thinks the nurses are “very good”.
Sidney, who is currently also unwell, said: “He’s been in and out of hospital since he was born. He spent his first four Christmases here, before he could go home. Hopefully he will get on the transplant list next year. It could be a week or a month. I have a suitcase sitting.”
Foster mum Sandra added: “He’s a good-natured wee boy. We were just approved to foster last February. John is our first placement. He’s a treasure.”
Fingers crossed Josh will get out
Joshua (1) from Newtownards
Nicola and Paul Thompson are hopeful their 15-month-old son will be well enough to spend Christmas Day at home.
He has bronchiolitis, a common lower respiratory tract infection that affects babies and young children.
Nicola said: “He had a high temperature and breathing difficulties. We were in three times with the same thing last year over New Year. This is the first time this year. We were in A&E on Monday night and he was admitted on Tuesday.”
Paul said: “He was using his belly to breathe, so you could see it rising in and out, rather than his chest. He has to be 24 hours off oxygen before he’s allowed to go home, so we may or may not be here on Christmas Day.” The Thompsons are very grateful to the staff at the Ulster Hospital for the care they have provided, and to builders from Graham construction who clubbed together and bought all the children in the paediatric ward presents.
For the moment, their Christmas plans are “up in the air”.
Nicola said: “I was very well organised this year. It’s more about seeing family. My folks are from Tyrone and we had planned to visit.
“The staff have been very helpful and doing what’s best for his care, and looking after us.
“Paul’s parents have been up, so it means we can go home and get a couple of hours’ kip and a shower before we come back in tonight.”
Family has been through wringer
Jamie-Lee (12) from Dundonald
The youngster, who has an undiagnosed condition, will more than likely be spending Christmas Day at the Ulster Hospital.
Jamie-Lee's mother Jamie said: "She was in intensive care for two weeks. Her health has been deteriorating a bit recently.
"We're hoping to get Jamie-Lee home on Christmas Day for a couple of hours. We will have to see. The staff at the Ulster Hospital are brilliant. We've spent many a Christmas here. They're fantastic."
Jamie and Mark Pollock's other daughter, Lacey, is also receiving care at the Ulster Hospital, but will be getting home for Christmas.
Jamie said: "I have another wee one, Lacey, over in special care, who is getting home for the first time on Monday, after she was born six months ago.
"In a way it's good. I'm getting one home.
"It's been hard for our three boys because we've lost three kids to this condition. It's hard on them.
"Our first wee man Jordan was 11 months old when he died.
"Then Ellie was two weeks off her sixth birthday. She spent three years of her life in here, and then Lexi passed away in special care. She was nine weeks."
All of the young ones look up to Alexandra
Alexandra Johnston (11) from Londonderry
Alexandra became unwell in August of this year and was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer in children.
Staff at the RBHSC say the bubbly little girl – who loves Matt Lucas, One Direction, Twitter, keeping a journal and Buddy the cuddly toy pug – is a great help with the younger children on her ward.
Alexandra is hopeful she will get home for Christmas this year to spend it with her parents and four siblings.
She said she was coping well with her illness. "I'm fine with it. I'm getting on great. Hopefully I'll get home for Christmas Day. I've made friends with Ellen, she's 10. We do arts stuff, decorating the ward for different holidays," she said.
"I love Christmas. I like opening the presents and the dinner. Everyone here is brilliant. I want to say thank you to them."
Alexandra's mother Karen said: "She's a real wee fighter. She has infections at the minute, but we're hoping she can come home for Christmas.
"Daddy (Andre) is off work for a full two weeks at Christmas. We've never had that.
"She has a lot of big treatment to go through in the new year. The staff are fantastic. They make it a home from home."