Volunteers bring sunshine to long-term patients

The Princess Margaret Hospital Ward Respite Volunteer Program is an innovative service for long-stay patients and their caregivers, which aims to make the experience of being in hospital less daunting for children and their families.

Established with a PMH Foundation grant, the program commenced as a trial in early 2013 with a team of volunteers who have been specifically recruited, trained and matched with children who are admitted to the hospital as inpatients for four weeks or longer.

Through the program, each volunteer provides social and emotional support to children they are matched to for up to nine hours per week.  This allows their parents, or caregiver, a few hours respite to spend in any way they wish – from being with any other children they may have, to running errands, to attending appointments.

The program also gives children the opportunity to form secure attachments with a volunteer, who then becomes a trusted person able to assist them in the absence of their caregiver.

Lauren, pictured above with one of her young patients Alex last year is one of the amazing volunteers who help bring this program to life and provide support for kids like Alex and their families.

Five year old Alex was an inpatient at Princess Margaret Hospital for over seven months in 2014 after he was involved in a horrific car accident with him mum and younger brother, while on the way to a special Mother’s Day craft session at kindy on 9 May 2014.

Alex’s mum Aime lost control of the car on a slippery bend when one of her back tires blew.    They ran off the road and hit a tree with such force that the car was flung up an embankment and into the path of an oncoming truck.

All three were injured in the accident. Lachie’s leg was broken and both Aime and Alex received head and spinal injuries.  Aime’s injuries were cushioned by the airbag that was deployed when they hit the tree.  Alex was in the backseat bending forward to get something from his bag when it accident happened.  His injuries were the most severe and he is now a paraplegic.

It was an unbelievably difficult year for the whole family and there were several times when Aime and her husband Warwick, feared that they had lost Alex.  When he was first admitted to Princess Margaret Hospital, Alex was placed in an induced coma to help his tiny body to cope with the trauma it had experienced in the accident.  He spent nine weeks in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, much of it in a full body cast before he was place into a halo to ensure his neck and spine were protected.  He was then moved onto a ward and over the seven months underwent countless scans, tests and nine surgeries – all under general anaesthetic.

Alex has handled everything he been through with a maturity that is incredible for a five year old child.  He has worked hard to regain his speech and upper body function, regularly attending sessions with speech therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Obsessed with Batman, Alex’s room has been dubbed the ‘Bat Cave’.  He frequently makes up games that involve Batman adventures when Lauren visits him.

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