Every family deserves happy memories

Talk of health care environment in which children constantly battle to survive becomes a turn-off for many because it causes distress. But behind this story of suffering there is also a beautiful picture, so please read on.

It is about a wonderful team of caring people who soak up all the sad lines and somehow convert them into editions of joy. They live by a few simple yet powerful words: Every family deserves good memories.

They are the Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation, a remarkable unit devoted to giving everything possible to provide the hospital with much-needed support to purchase resources to help the children in their care.

The connection with our south coast is 13-14 Central Drive, Encounter Lakes – home of The WCH Foundation Beach House Project. More than $2.5 million is being raised to build a specially-catered five-bedroom home as a special holiday-mode centre for the children and their family.

Denise Rowe, manager philanthropy at the Foundation, says invariably these children cannot go on a ‘normal’ family holiday. Their siblings feel a sense of isolation; they cannot go to their grandparents’ home or mix with their cousins. This restricted interaction will change for many when this new home is completed in 12 months or so; all will be welcome through the doors. The tender process for architects has began making a dream become real.

“We are dealing with families who have a range of issues to confront, and because of that they never have the chance to go away,” Denise said. “There are well over 100 families looked after by the different units of the hospital who may make use of the facility.

“As with every health care situation involving children sometimes the siblings can feel the focus is rarely on them. They miss out on a lot, and they have to. The focus has to be on the sick child.

“We would like the family to be able to just go away for a few days and not be worried about taking all of the extra equipment and so on. They are going there to have fun. There is the need to provide something special for the extended siblings. There is a sports ground, cafe, playground and beach and playground all here for them in Victor Harbor, things many have not been able to enjoy because the focus has been on the child in need.”

The purpose-built complex is the result of a wonderful, close relationship with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which serves all of South Australia and Northern Territory, and the Sunraysia region which embraces north-west Victoria and south-west New South Wales.

Sarah Fitzharris, media and communications manager for the WCH Foundation, said the common factor of all the children with wide-ranging illness is they are under palliative care. “That does not mean it is terminal situation,” she said. “It is wrong to say this is a hospice; it is not. It is more about the living than the dying aspect.

“The beach house is also about what we can bring to the Fleurieu region. We have families who do not come from South Australia and have never heard of Victor Harbor or Encounter Bay. Some will be down here from the Northern Territory for six-12 months or longer. We are hoping it will be a partnership with the region.”

Denise said the beach house won’t be luxurious. “But it will be very well stocked and looked after, and this is why the community is so important long term” she adds.

“We are going to need people to stock the fridge, perhaps defrost a lasagne so the parents don’t have to worry about preparing a meal because their time is precious. And we are going to do our best to make sure when they arrive in this house it is a homely environment. There are going to be little things that will make their stay that just bit extra special.”

Kristen Hardy, who joined the WCH Foundation team as a community fundraiser having spent 17 years working at Ronald McDonald House, has a sound understanding of the extra complexities for the rural and interstate families who are sent to Adelaide and stay until their child can go home.

“We want to celebrate life; it’s about families,” she said. “We are also trying to create something special for all the family as a unit, and this includes the grandparents who feel double grieving – for their children and their children. They need to be involved in this journey.

“Let’s also be frank when we talk about the impact left behind in a situation where the child has passed away… you have to somehow draw upon the positive side of things to then be able to go forward.

“I learnt very early in Ronald McDonald House that there are things you cannot fix, but you can be satisfied when you can make a difference.

“The thing about the WCH Foundation is that we will remain needed because there is always going be a shortfall. No government anywhere in the world is going to be able to do everything they need to do to make sure the sick have the best possible access to resources and facilities in the best possible environment. It can’t happen, and that’s why we are a vital part.”

Denise said it was emotion that constantly drove this remarkable team. “If we didn’t get affected by it all I don’t think we would be as effective in what we do,” she said. “The key is making sure that it drives us and and doesn’t bring you down.”

Victor Harbor was chosen as the site for the WCH Foundation Beach House because clinically, there was a need for the children to be within 10 minutes of a well-equipped hospital, about 20 minutes by air to a major hospital, and generally be in a holiday destination – somewhere special for the families so they can rediscover the meaning of fun.

The WCH Foundation does some amazing work, and in the last financial year raised more than $1.5m towards medical research projects at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. It facilitates a brilliant Arts in Health program that has helped to achieve better health outcomes through art, play and music.

Other fascinating programs funded by the Foundation include Play Therapy where therapists play, distract and entertain young patients which makes it easier for health care professionals to treat the children, and Animal Assisted Therapy where dogs have become a helpful part of the rehabilitation program for children currently receiving treatment at the hospital. It also plays a huge role in funding medical research for the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The bond between the hospital and the foundation is special; there is mutual respect and appreciation, and everything is about the children and their family. Among the WCH Foundation fundraising events this year will be a charity golf day at the Victor Harbor Golf Club in September with funds directed to the Beach House project.

The first hole at the course offers a nationally-acclaimed view, but the biggest picture will be at 13-14 Central Drive. There in the distance memories will be etched on smiling children’s faces, and they will be priceless. It’s a happy beginning to a new story, not a sad ending.

Women’s & Children’s Hospital Foundation Beach House project

* $2.5million needs to be raised for a purpose built, medically equipped and fully-furnished beach house at Encounter Lakes in Victor Harbor.

* This holiday home will be a special place for children, who not only require palliative care but suffer other life limiting or long-term chronic illness, and their families to enjoy.

* Among key considerations are wheelchair access, door widths to cater for mobility aids and equipment, an oxygen supply, patient lifting systems, climate control and storage for special needs equipment.

* The fully furnished, medically equipped and landscaped Beach House will provide a peaceful place where families can take a much needed break to share special experiences that will last a lifetime.

* Inside this beautiful home will be all the equipment and disability support tools and resources they need as well as a whole system of support including meals, access to activities and medical assistance.