Sweet success: Delight for Belfast 'hospital mums' as selection box appeal proves big Christmas hit
The mothers of two seriously ill Belfast girls who started a Christmas collection for patients have spoken of their joy at the huge public response.
Friends Kirstie Dallas (26) and Paula Tate (30) describe themselves as 'hospital mums', having spent most of 2019 with their daughters in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
They were stunned when a Facebook request for a few selection boxes for other patients saw over 1,000 chocolate selection boxes and toys donated.
Kirstie's daughter Esme (3) has an extremely rare and life-limiting neurological condition. This week, Kirstie and her partner Kirk received the devastating news their daughter's lungs will eventually stop working. Paula's daughter Kaidence (5) has a form of spina bifida, which has already required six operations this year.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Kirstie said the collection has helped them cope with the stress of life on the ward.
"It's been good for me and Paula to have something else to put our minds at ease while the girls are in hospital because it is hard and tiring as we have other kids to go home to," she said.
"I think once my mind stops and I'm not too busy I think too much and get too upset about Esme."
She added: "With Esme, she's always happy no matter what. She's always smiling and laughing.
"We were told she would never walk, talk, laugh or smile. But anything we do get out of her is just amazing.
"We didn't get great news on Monday so I've been a bit of a wreck all week. Her condition is neurological and her brain isn't sending the right signals to her lungs.
"That means they will eventually stop working as it's a degenerative condition. So they told us on Monday they don't know if Esme will be here this time next year.
"So we've been told to just try and get her out and create as many memories as possible.
"I think the selection box collection is really good for her wee legacy, to know we gave back to everyone who helped us in the hospitals and for her wee memories as well."
Paula said she has already spent about half of this year in hospital with Kaidence, with her most recent operation taking place on Monday.
"Last Tuesday I was sitting down in the cancer ward with Kaidence as there were no other beds," she said.
"I just put a wee post on Facebook asking my friends and family would they like to donate a few selection boxes which me and my husband (Barrie) would love to give to the Royal.
"It literally went massive, we're sitting at over 1,000 selection boxes now. We have toys, sensory toys, gluten-free chocolate, allergy-free selection boxes."
The donations are to be partly distributed tomorrow in the children's hospital, with the rest going to emergency departments, food banks, homeless drop-in centres and the Salvation Army.
"People have been so generous," she said.
"We're both in the hospital and it's the loneliest time at Christmas, but by keeping us so busy this collection has actually kept our minds in a better place if that makes sense.
"I have two other children as well, including a new baby, so I'm away and haven't been able to give my baby a bottle in seven days because of infection control in the hospital.
"It's just hard as a family but you just do it. People say they don't know how we cope. I tell them, 'You don't cope, you just do it because it's for her'. It's just life and you adapt to it, but this is five years for us now.
"I usually don't do too well with the surgeries and I get quite upset, but the collection has really kept my mind off it."