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Francis House Children’s Hospice: Nearly 30 years on – Jackie Graham shares her memories

SHE may have missed seeing Diana, Princess of Wales, open the hospice in 1991, but senior nurse Jackie Graham has had her fair share of magical memories.

After training as a Registered Nurse at Stoke Park Hospital in Bristol, specialising in learning disabilities, Jackie spent three years working at a children’s respite home in Bath.

Whilst volunteering with Toc H, the Manchester children’s camp for disadvantaged children, Jackie saw an advertisement for nurses at the newly opened Francis House Children’s Hospice.

Hospice founder Sister Aloysius, head of care Margaret Hickie and former chairman of the board of Trustees Robin Wood, interviewed Jackie and she joined the team in October 1992.

The care team in the 90s consisted of approximately 30 members of staff – roughly half the size of what it is today.

Francis House Children's Hospice: Nearly 30 years on - Jackie Graham shares her memories
Jackie Graham with children 1998

Jackie said:

“I felt comfortable straight away. I knew where I wanted to work and progress. Some of the children’s clinical needs were new to me, but it was family centred care, and a very special place then, as it is now.

“Families always come first at Francis House. We didn’t have as many children receiving care back then, so they were with us for longer periods of respite, and we only had seven bedrooms whereas now we have fourteen.”

Childhood illnesses found decades ago are still around today, but through medical interventions children are now living longer. Gene therapy, surgery and other treatments are now available that weren’t possible in the past.

Francis House Children's Hospice: Nearly 30 years on - Jackie Graham shares her memories
Jackie Graham and Omari at Francis House

Jackie explained:

“We have children living with very rare conditions and so the ratio of nurses to children is now much higher because of their complex medical needs.”

One of her fondest early memories was taking a large group of siblings to the beach one summer. She said:

“For many siblings, it was the first time that they had experienced something just for themselves. We had a brilliant weekend away on the beach, and around that time we were starting to develop a programme of sibling care.”

Jackie became part of the Season’s sibling support group, which gives the brothers and sisters of the sick children, opportunities to meet up with other young people and take part in trips and activities.

Jackie said:

“It is a pleasure to be around some truly inspirational children and their families – I get so much from them.”

A familiar face at Francis House from the late 90s was the late Kirsty Howard who received respite at the hospice from age three and a half until she died in 2015.

Jackie concluded:

“Kirsty was an amazing lady and we had lots of laughs over the years. But we also had many difficult conversations with her and her two sisters about what the future might hold. I remember doing lots of night shifts and how important it was for them to have the time to talk through their feelings.

“I watched Kirsty grow up from being a little child, as I’ve watched lots of children grow up, and then to be with them and their families at the end of their lives.

“Being with parents in the Rainbow Room and able to share some truly special memories is always a privilege.

“The joy of simply playing on the swings or giving complex nursing care or ensuring a bath is luxurious and relaxing or offering emotional support to siblings, one day is never the same as the next as it has been right from the beginning.”

“After almost three decades I still love coming to work.”

To discover more about Francis House, our fundraising events and services, please visit: www.francishouse.org.uk.

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