For many children getting out into the fresh air and playing on slides and climbing frames, or rolling down a grassy bank, is normal everyday life. But for those youngsters whose immune system is low sharing recreational space with other children is not possible.
At Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals NHS Trust a garden has been built and equipped so that these very special patients can enjoy outdoor activity if they wish.
Said Paediatric Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist Emma Read: “During treatment for cancer the children receive chemotherapy, which reduces their immune system for quite a considerable time. When they are admitted to hospital they are unable to mix with other in-patients due to their susceptibility and risk of picking up life-threatening infections. This oncology garden has created a fantastic opportunity for them to have their own play area whereby they can come out of isolation cubicles into the garden and play independently of non-oncology children. We are extremely grateful for all those who have contributed and raised money for this to be possible.”
The garden was created by Field Engineers from EDF Energy Networks and was formally opened this month. (December)
The team of seven, all from the energy company’s Networks Customer Operations base in Croydon, spent several days transforming a scruffy outside area outside the Little Oaks Paediatric Oncology Unit into a safe haven for youngsters at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital Trust in Chertsey.
Team leader Brian Walsh said: “As a team, we have supported the oncology department for children at St Peter’s for a number of years after a colleague’s god-daughter became extremely poorly with Wilms disease. She was just three and we all felt helpless. So we decided to help out in any way we could to help make life easier for the little girl, her family and others like them.”
Brian’s colleague, Simon Williams, remembers when he told his workmates about Charlotte Michael’s condition. He said: “They were all devastated. Charlotte was very young and none of us really knew what to expect. Watching from the sidelines as she and her parents embarked on successive treatments was really difficult.
“Charlotte was diagnosed at three years old and now, thankfully she is healthy and cancer-free 18 months after her treatment. She has quarterly check-ups to make sure the cancer has not returned, something she’ll continue to have for the foreseeable future. Even though she is getting better, we have not stopped our fund-raising efforts in her name. The garden and play area we have created will help to brighten the time youngsters spend on the ward.”
A Wilms tumour is a malignant tumour on the kidney. It is a rare childhood kidney cancer and the dormant cells form while the baby is still in the womb, usually maturing when the child is about three years old. It only affects 70 UK children a year.
Charlotte’s mum, Lorraine, 42, of Ashford, Surrey, thinks the new garden is much needed. She said: “When your child is admitted for treatment you effectively go into isolation because the form of cancer is so aggressive it virtually wipes out the immune system, making children very susceptible to infections.
“We were cooped up in a small room once every three weeks for three days and Charlotte couldn’t really mix with anyone else. Charlotte really longed to get out into the open and play freely like other little girls. Other play areas in the hospital were available for all children to use, so they were out of bounds for Charlotte. That’s why the new play area will be a massive step forward for children specifically on the oncology department.”
The team of volunteers, aided by contractor Murphys plc, built a log cabin and a large soft playground in the new oncology garden. The whole area has also been landscaped and given a general make-over. The voluntary work is part of EDF Energy’s Helping Hands scheme. The initiative allows staff to give at least two days of paid work time each year to help local charities and community groups with voluntary work. The team were so committed to the job they finished the work during their holidays.
Chris Costa, business unit support manager for children’s services at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Trust said: “This is really lovely. Without all the help from the EDF Energy Networks team this wouldn’t be happening at all - we would not be able to have an oncology garden. This is going to be wonderful for the children and their families, who are sometimes here all day for treatment.”
Mrs Michael added: “I think the team from the energy company are brilliant. They have helped to raise well over £4,000 in the last few years not just to support Charlotte and our family, but also other children who are suffering from Wilms disease. They are an inspiration to us all.”