Spotlight on Donna Ellis – our green-fingered patient, integral to the Wirral Hospice St John’s garden make-over team #hospicehero #patientcare #hospice #wellbeing #gardening #supporter

Donna 4

     The Hospice Garden (adopted)

“How many kinds of sweet flowers grow,

In our Wirral Hospice garden?

(We’ll tell you below of some that we know,

Those we miss you’ll surely pardon).

Daffodil’s, Heart’s Ease and Phlox,

Meadowsweet and Lady Smocks,

Gentian, lupine and tall hollyhocks,

Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, blue forget-me-nots,

In our Wirral Hospice Garden.

This might be Wirral Hospice St John’s summer anthem for 2019 as we’ve completed the garden makeover in time for our Open Garden event this weekend 29th and 30th June, 2019. (Many thanks to Jimmie F Rodgers, the American folk singer, who penned (most of) those evocative words. It’s set to a traditional English tune which is said to have been arranged in the sixteenth century).

We also thought that the timing was perfect to share somebody’s story who knows about gardens and gardening. Someone who has helped in the planning and preparation, someone who is a patient (nay, “a person”) who has attended our Wellbeing Centre and has become a friend, and has also given her own time, at the hospice.

Donna Ellis is that person.

Whenever I see her she’s ready with a broad smile and a friendly greeting. She has an engaging laugh and a twinkle in her eye despite, it is fair to say, having to cope for several years with the really complex health conditions that life has thrown at her.

When she first came to us in the Wellbeing Centre it took a couple of visits to establish that her passion in life was in bringing life to plants and flowers. Our job is to help people to optimise their lives and, where possible, to continue to be involved in, and carry on doing, the things they enjoy.

Soon she’d agreed with Helen Parkinson, our clinical services manager for Wellbeing, that she should cultivate a little bed of flowers near to the entrance to Outpatients. This has been accomplished with aplomb and the results are there, for all to see.

So, ever since we decided to prepare for an Open Garden we’ve consulted with Donna, as well as other patients and volunteers, to bring it to fruition.

She’s been getting stuck in on extra days, with husband Alan providing the muscle (and who also has an eye for gardening) to move shrubs while Donna applies some finesse to new planting.

Donna 3I sat with Donna the week before our Open Garden event to find out a little bit more about her, while she was also attending to a large pot of flowers, being lovingly nurturing for our display.

Born and Bred in Wirral, Donna was brought up in New Ferry. She’s the youngest, by 10 years, of 4 children. Maybe this is why, it becomes clear, she felt so close to her mum, Mary, and feels her loss very keenly. She also loves her dad, Ken, who still lives in her childhood home and who, with Mary, taught her to love gardens, planting and gardening.

Dad built his own timber frame greenhouse for seasonal veg. They never ran out and they’d share the produce, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber and cauliflower with their neighbours. Donna remembers that one side of the garden was lawn and the other would be for growing plants and flowers to coincide with the seasons.

Donna would sit for hours watching, learning and eventually joining in. What is now clear is that she inherited her Mum and Dad’s green-fingers.

She’s telling me all this while attentively ‘dead-heading’, removing brown leaves and planting new flowers in a huge pot,

Donna Pots“This is skimmia, lovely red flowers in the winter. I’m gonna build up this antirrhinum and plant the rest of the bed around it. It will give it some height. Ooh, a bit of vine weevil here to remove. Can you pass the dianthus and those lupins?”

I’m thinking: I don’t know what it all means, but it looks brilliant!

At school, St John Plessington in Bebington, she gained 10 GCSE’s and 4 ‘A’ Levels. She loved theatre studies and wrote and starred in a play, Outside the Bathroom Door, ultimately attaining a Grade 8 qualification for acting, awarded by the Royal College of Music.

At 18, Donna was at a real crossroads. Whether to study for a degree in divinity or to pursue her other calling, nursing? Nursing won and, after 3 years training at Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge hospitals, she qualified as a Registered General Nurse (RGN) at 21 years of age.

Donna and AlanWhile training she was working at the Gateway Supermarket in Bebington where she met Alan (pictured here, on one of our garden makeover days, with Donna),

“Alan was shy when he was younger and I was quite ‘gobby’. But I thought he was the bees knees, he had a Nissan Sunny which I thought was luxury. We laugh now when we look back – it was really an ‘ol’ banger!”

I’m laughing because it’s the way she tells it!

The first time Alan said he had ‘something important to ask’, Donna‘s eye’s roll as she recalls it was to ask her to move in together! Not the proposal she was expecting, but it was only a matter of time before they were married.

In her late 20’s and early 30’s Donna’s struggles with illness really began to take over her life. A very difficult pregnancy which, happily, did bring their daughter, Jess, into the world had been fraught with complications on top of Donna’s developing ill health.

Donna describes the moment when Jess came into the world,

“Throughout pregnancy I carried a condition which brought cruel pain. I had truly believed there was little hope for the life growing inside me. So it was a miracle when, there she was, a beautiful baby girl, 8lb 3oz, with a mass of black hair and long legs. I was the happiest person alive.”

Like it has to, life carried on, and Donna was beginning to live with ever-more complex conditions. She has a diagnosis of eosinophilic (brittle) asthma. This is a life-limiting condition in itself, however, a treatment, especially formulated for the asthma, brings her some blessed relief.

But, in the last 4 years, Donna has also had to combat blood clots, infections and sleep apnoea. Perhaps most challenging of all she developed MRSA sepsis which needed a high dosage of three antibiotics. A reaction damaged her middle ear, which has resulted in permanent vertigo, and she has become reliant on her mobility ‘walker’. She does add, (surprisingly cheerfully in her circumstance), “It’s three wheels. One for each member of our little family.”

Brittle asthma can lead to a referral for hospice care. Donna admits that before coming to Wirral Hospice St John’s she was at her very lowest ebb. She’d been an accomplished RGN in a career she loved and now she felt like all she was, was a hindrance.

Her initial reaction to being referred to the hospice was, like many people, a little trepidation. Best to use Donna’s own words here after she had asked herself at the time, “Am I dying?”

The answer is NO! I started to realise I still had a lot to offer. I needed to deal with my illnesses and look forward. The hospice provides me with pain relief but so much more. No-one says, ‘there is nothing more we can do for you’.

I feel like a special person getting individual attention. I feel privileged actually, as not everyone takes up the experience. It’s a place where I can be myself, just ‘me’. My family know that I relish going into the hospice. They look forward to the stories I share when I go home. I have remembered who I am, having spent time with the hospice’s attentive and skilled staff, dedicated volunteers, and, in fact, fellow patients with their own challenges. Laughter is a big part of life at the hospice.

I feel like I’m a Mum and Wife again. I just hope my experience will inspire other people to embrace the hospice should they be referred. It has made such a positive impact on my life.”

Donna Xmas

Wow!

Donna now has a further complication, an Aortic Dissection. Her blood pressure has to be constantly monitored and she has to engage in calming activities to maintain a steady rate.

So, it’s a good job that gardening provides just such a past time. She’s become a fixture during our Garden Makeover volunteering days and we all love to see her. Her impact is immeasurable and without doubt the garden would not have been quite as beautiful as it has turned out to be, without her, and Alan’s, help, in time for our Open Garden weekend. 

You can imagine that we had to be especially gentle when we also told Donna the barnstorming news that that she would be being interviewed for BBC TV’s North West Tonight! We recently received the news that, to our great privilege, Wirral Hospice St John’s has secured the right to site the North West Tonight Sunshine Garden, in memory of weather presenter, Dianne Oxberry, here, following its showcase at The RHS Tatton Flower Show in July.

AND, She Smashed it! Of Course. See the video here.

Thank You Donna from, deeper than, the bottom of our hearts.

Author: Billy Howard

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Spotlight On: Penny Lee: Co-ordinating Life Affirming Activities in our Wellbeing Centre # wirralhospice #wellbeing #caring #fun #thankyou #hospicecare #hospicehero

PennyThe ancient Greeks were pioneers in many fields which still impact modern life. Some people, and the subject areas they specialised in, are universally famous. We’ve all heard of Hippocrates in medicine, Socrates in philosophy and Pythagoras in mathematics.

Wirral Hospice St John’s applies learning, practise and innovation in all of those fields: Progressive treatments and therapies for the relief of pain and discomfort in Medicine contribute to the essential work of the hospice; Philosophy is used in strategies which inform coping, counselling and caring for patients and their families; And, we also employ basic Mathematics, not least when counting up the many donations generous supporters make, which help us to provide our vital services.

One more area, for which we are indebted to the ancient Greeks is, Art! The way they found expression in art is still inspiring the various forms we see today. At the hospice we’re especially lucky to have a special modern descendant of Greece, our Wellbeing Centre creative therapies co-ordinator, Penny Lee!

Penny is Greek? Well, actually, Penny, (is there a more English sounding name?) was born and brought up in England by her German mum, Ute, and Greek dad, Costas. She has a fireman brother, also Costas, and she has a, rather lovely, birth name, Panayota Olymbios

I don’t know about you but, that makes me want to book a two week summer holiday in the Greek Islands! It definitely means we need to know more about Penny, her motivations, including her passion for art and its use as a creative therapy in the Wellbeing Centre.

“Our patients face real challenges with their various conditions and our job is to gently encourage activities which feed their spirit. It’s not about being a fantastic artist; we simply provide the materials to enable people to explore their own creativity.”

Art might involve painting or sculpting, drawing or fabric design. It could be a poem or song lyrics. What we absolutely know is, it genuinely helps the people who attend our Wellbeing Centre.

The ‘doing’ is the important thing. It is sometimes the ideal way for patients to ‘escape’, to be lost in the moment and to enjoy a period of relief. At other times people’s feelings are crystallised in their work and it can release emotions. In Wellbeing, Penny, her volunteer helpers and, of course, the clinical staff are close-by for the occasions that require a kind word or, when necessary, some more private conversations.Penny and Norma

Penny’s volunteer helpers, Norma (pictured with Penny), Mike (more of him later), Debbie and Jackie are experienced people who add invaluable support. Listening, nurturing and encouraging people, gently, are the essential characteristics needed to help with creative pastimes.

Wirral Hospice St John’s Wellbeing Centre is a place where people, with life limiting illnesses, are welcomed when they have been referred through their consultant’s, and/or GP’s and/or community nurse(s). People are still under the care of their GP’s but are assessed in our Outpatient’s (also sometimes Inpatients) department to agree a day in the week (Tuesday – Friday), over 8 weeks, when they can attend.

Penny’s inspiration for working in a caring environment stems from her mum who was a care worker in a nursing home. She worked with older people and would often take Penny who, as she reached her teenage years, began to build up a keen respect for people with various health needs. At the same time, at school, Penny was displaying a keen talent for art!

‘A Level Art’ was duly achieved and she had to make a choice, “Should I be a nurse or do art? Health or art? At 18, Penny chose art and went off to Norwich University to study Graphic Design and Illustration. Happily, for our patients, the combination of care and art is now fused in facilitating creative therapies here at the hospice.

Penny WorkAfter graduation, Penny worked at Chandos Records, a specialist company producing classical music records. As a senior graphic designer, her job involved organising photo-shoots, creating illustrations (from listening to the musical pieces) and final art direction for vinyl covers which sold all over the world. If you bought a record of Nigel Kennedy’s, the world famous violinist, in the 80’s the chances are Penny designed the cover!

Penny also experienced the caring work of hospices when a former colleague from Chandos, and a good friend, Mark, died at St Elizabeth Hospice, Ipswich, at only 39 years of age.

Eventually marriage brought Penny to Wirral and she has two boys (pictured with Penny), Daniel 21, who is studying German and Portuguese in Bristol, and Jonny 23 (fondly called ‘Mr Gadget’ by Penny) who works in Manchester for the growing digital content provider ‘Unilad’Penny and Boys

Nowadays Penny also volunteers for an organisation called Place2Be which works with schools to meet the needs of some (often vulnerable) children who don’t always thrive in the mainstream. It’s really inspiring work.

Penny GracieIn June Penny will have been at the hospice for six years. Until she worked here, and even now, Penny has been involved in voluntary work. She loves dogs and has been involved in ‘pat dogs’ for people with dementia (her own dog is Gracie, pictured on the left) . She’s been an Age UK befriender and was working at a café in Willaston when she met Wellbeing Centre volunteer, Mike Ring.

Mike introduced Penny to the hospice as a volunteer and, when a staff position became available, well, the rest is history. That’s not ancient Greek history mind, it’s modern history being made with a Greek, plus German and English, influence.

Thank you, Penny, you’re really making history!

Author: Billy Howard

Spotlight On: Bill Collins, 80 years young and a #wirralhospice #volunteer for more than 30 years #hospicehero #caring #fundraising #congratulations #wellbeing #patientcare #wirralcommunity

Bill Collins with CaroleDevoted Wirral Hospice St John’s volunteer, Mr Bill Collins, speaks from the heart, “I love the place, I love the people, I just love everything about it!”

Bill is a big part of hospice life. He’s volunteered at Wirral Hospice St John’s for over 30 years, and, nowadays, he adds massive value to our inpatients ward every Tuesday evening. He feels the special emotions of Christmas time too – he has given two or three hours of his time every Christmas and Boxing Day for all of those years.

On the Inpatient ward at the hospice, Bill will serve patients and their families with drinks, make sure people have fresh water and, whenever asked, will be available for a welcome chat. Our volunteers help to take some of the time pressures from the ward staff and, although Bill won’t take credit, we know it must be more than a little cheering and interesting for any patient, or family member, who spends a little time just chewing the fat with Bill.

He doesn’t say it but, it’s clear from our conversation, Bill is also a team player. He always wants to mention the hard work and dedication of fellow volunteers, especially his friend Margaret Halewood who has been volunteering with him on the ward for 25 years. He also credits volunteer receptionists Tina Hughes and Karen Ellis, who are part of the Inpatients ward Tuesday evening volunteer group.

When asked what he thinks of the hospice and the people he meets or works alongside, his passion shines through; “I think the world of them, I’m just so proud to be a part of it. All our services and all the different people, patients, families, volunteers and staff, we’re like a family”,

Bill Collins

Bill got involved with volunteering after his own Mum, Nell’s, progressive illness worsened and he spent time as the main carer for her and later when his Dad, Jack, also became ill. He’d taken early retirement from Shell at their Thornton research facility, now part of the University of Chester, where he’d been a laboratory steward, to fulfil his carer’s role.

After his Mum passed away, Bill was asked to consider volunteering at Wirral Hospice St John’s. He remembers applying and as soon as his ‘induction’ was completed he “loved it straight away.” Joyce Reeves (later Jones) was the first Matron of the hospice, serving between 1983 and 1998. He fondly recalls Matron Jones as “a wonderful woman.”

He chuckles heartily when he recounts the time the hospice obtained its first bed hoist. The nurses insisted that Bill was the ideal candidate to test the equipment. “I was like a puppet suspended in mid-air, while the nurses were enjoying the spectacle, laughing their heads off.” (It would be a ‘Health and Safety’ thing nowadays, so new volunteers shouldn’t worry!)

Bill keeps himself fit by swimming four times a week, doing plenty of walking and looking in on his ‘older’ neighbours in Bromborough. What is remarkable, and might be news to some of his friends around the hospice, is he had a triple heart by-pass in 2001! Typical of Bill, he plays it down! “I’ve just listened to the doctors, I watch what I eat and I’ve had no major problems!”

We’re really glad to hear it, Bill.

He enjoys his holidays and short breaks. Trips to North Wales are a pleasure he thoroughly enjoys but, most of all, Bill looks forward to his annual trip to the Algarve, with a gang of people who have become firm friends over the years. He stays in a little village called Sesmarias not far from the tranquil Praia de Coelha beach and a short drive into the bustling town of Albufeira. Lovely!

Bill Collins 2

Bill helps the hospice in other ways too. Each year he helps to run the St Barnabas church hall Christmas Fayre, in Bromborough, with his good friend, Betty Richards. The first year he did this he made £63 and now, following this year’s event, selling hospice Christmas cards and calendars, Bill has now raised over £25,000 since becoming a volunteer.

By writing a special poem in recent years for our annual Light up a Life switch-on service in the hospice gardens, Bill has also made an extra special contribution to the whole Wirral community.

This year’s poem  is so poignant and I ask Bill where he gets his inspiration. “I think of all the people I’ve met at the hospice down the years. I write for the families who have been touched by what we do, my mum and dad, and my sister, Barbara, and her family. Being involved as a volunteer has made me a better person.”

Here is Bill’s heartfelt poem:

Memories in Lights

You’re in my thoughts every single day,
Of things we did and things we’d say,

How we laughed, the times we cried,
Always together, side by side.

When we hugged and when we kissed,
The times we sat and reminisced.

It’s hard to take, now we’re apart
But you’re forever in my heart.

I see your face within the light,
And feel you’re here, with me, tonight.

Wonderful, Bill!

In a magnificent coincidence, this inspiring story is published on Bill’s 80th birthday (6th December, 2018).

Some, of his very many, hospice friends gathered to say, “Many Happy Returns, Bill, thank you so much for all that you do for Wirral Hospice St John’s.”

Bill Collins 80 Group

Author: Billy Howard

It’s Occupational Therapy Week #OTWEEK2017 we’d like you to meet Katy Firth, our very own Occupational Therapist!

crop katie firthTell us a little bit about yourself
I have recently moved to the North West from Southampton but I am originally from Whitley Bay on the North East coast and I did my training at York St John University.

Before moving here I worked in University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust. I worked there for five years and I did a number of rotations including acute oncology and it was there where I found my passion for oncology and palliative care. Prior to moving I worked within acute oncology as a static member of staff for just over a year and whilst I was there I completed a master’s module in palliative care.

My parents still live in the North East but most of the rest of my family live in Lancashire and my twin sister lives in Manchester so being back closer to family inspired mine and my husband’s move to the North West. I am an active person who enjoys outdoor activities and I am active member of the scout association.

How long has Wirral Hospice been a part of your life?
I have only been at the hospice for two months and I have really appreciated how welcoming and friendly everyone has been.

What are your Hospice Highlights?

  • The warm and approachable staff and volunteers
  • The green space around the hospice that helps create a calm environment
  • To have joined such a friendly and supportive team.


What does hospice care mean to you?
To me, hospice care means working together as a multidisciplinary team to provide holistic person centred care to people who have life limiting illnesses, to empower them to live life as independently and fully as possible. As an occupational therapist my role is to support people to live not just exist. By enabling patients to maintain their independence and engagement in everyday and meaningful activities, whilst supporting them to cope with their changing condition, helping them understand and adapt to the changes that they are experiencing in everyday life.

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Sam will turn on 10,000 #LightupaLife lights in memory of his dad

DSC_0024-2This December ten thousand beautiful lights will be switched on in memory of loved ones at Wirral Hospice St John’s.  This special event is an opportunity for our local community to come together to sponsor a light and remember their loved ones.

This year the lights will be switched on by eight-year-old Sam Bryson whose dad died at Wirral Hospice St John’s in 2015.  Sam was six and his sister Florence was just two when their dad Roger died from bowel cancer aged 48.

The children spent a lot of time visiting their dad at the hospice and were always made to feel welcome and cared for; their father was an in-patient for almost three months.  Periods of stability meant he was able to live at the family home in Hoylake for a few weeks at a time.  Roger was a news journalist who worked for the BBC in Liverpool, and was a former news editor of The Liverpool Daily Post.

150502CMC_Bryson-145
Roger & Julia Bryson and their children Sam & Florence

Roger was hospitalised in May 2013 with essential thrombocythemia – a blood disorder that caused a series of blood clots, resulting in complications and emergency bowel surgery.  He returned to work nearly 18 months later, but developed further problems and was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in April 2015. He moved to Wirral Hospice St John’s days later.

Julia Bryson writes a blog called Rainbeaubelle and documents their journey online. Writing about her husband’s cancer diagnosis, his move to the hospice and eventually his death helped her to get through the experience and connect with others in a similar position. It has also served to give people an insight into life at a hospice and how the hospice can benefit not only the patient but also the whole family.

A news journalist like her husband, Julia works at the BBC in Leeds and in her spare time writes about how the family has moved forward through grief.

The family have since moved from Wirral to Julia’s hometown in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, but visit Hoylake often.  Roger’s family – his mum was 91 this year and lives in Moreton with his sister Jehane, and his brother Pete and sister-in-law Glenys live in Irby.

Sam said: “I feel really proud to have been asked to switch on the lights and can’t wait to see them shining in the trees.  Last year we won the raffle and took home a huge teddy bear called Frosty, it was really fun!”

Lual Star xmassy on dark backgroundThe switch-on will take place in the Hospice gardens on Sunday 3rd December from 4.30pm.  The names of those remembered will feature in the books of honour on display in the hospice chapel.  Each name sponsored will receive a Light up a Life card and there is an opportunity to buy a Light up a Life star as a keepsake tree decoration.

Last year’s campaign helped to raise almost £90,000 towards running costs and patient care. To sponsor a light call 0151 343 0778 or visit www.wirralhospice.org

Author: Julia Evans

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