“As a Demelza Health Care Assistant I give my all when providing care, help and support to children and families. I do it in the way I would like to be cared for, or my children be cared for, should I ever be in the same situation as others.
"I joined the charity at the end of 2019 and knew immediately that I would be a ‘lifer’ and stay with Demelza for years to come - I absolutely love it. I love all the people I work with; they are all so supportive of one another. Not long after I joined the pandemic struck and, because I am clinically vulnerable, I received a letter from the government to shield at home. Those months away from work were so tough; I’m from South Africa and have very little support around me. I missed helping families and all of my lovely colleagues.
"But in August 2020 I got the green light to return and spent the first few weeks working at Demelza’s hospice in Kent to ease myself back in and refresh my knowledge and skills. It wasn’t long before I was back in the car on my way to visit families in their homes as part of the Care at Home team.
"I like to be hands on and will support a nurse with clinical care in the home. The best way I can describe it is by likening it to surgery. When looking after a ventilated child for example, we don’t necessarily need to talk while providing care. I will know instinctively when to pass over the suction or catheter to the nurse – we work seamlessly as a team and I am learning all the time.
"And then there’s all the fun to be had – whether making music, sensory play, creating something arty, cooking up a storm in the kitchen or embarking on a forest hunting adventure – Care at Home sessions come in all shapes and sizes and I like to do a range of activities that I know a child will enjoy. Life for the children Demelza cares for can be short so it is important to make as many memories as we can with them. I am also trained in bereavement photography so am able to capture those precious moments between a family and a child receiving end of life care.
"I regularly provide care at home to a teenager in Maidstone and he loves it when I take him out for a walk in his buggy. When he knows we are going he claps his hands with excitement. He loves that I don’t wear a mask outside and can see my face and full expressions. With his oxygen tank in tow I walk for miles – come rain or shine (the more water falling, the more he loves it!) – spotting buses and lorries, before stopping at a Costa for a babycino. Ironically, I often hear that he isn’t the same child when he stays at the hospice. Although he enjoys his time there, it’s clear that his preference is to receive care at home where he is surrounded by his own toys and familiar things. Each child is individual and it’s amazing that Demelza can offer care that is tailored to theirs and their family’s needs.
"But then there are occasions when a blend of both care at home and a hospice stay is perfect. I have been supporting a new family in Maidstone who have been going through a tough time. It can feel overwhelming to hand over the care of your child to a stranger, but after building trust the parents are happy for me to take their little one out on our own. I told them about Demelza’s hospices and they initially felt reluctant. But after a first visit to our Kent hospice, they cannot wait to return and use all of the amazing facilities on offer, such as the hydro pool and cinema room.
"My visits take me far and wide to all corners of Kent. Before visiting I will always check a child’s notes to ensure I fully understand their condition, situation and whether there have been any changes. I recently went to see a new family in Tunbridge Wells and knew that the child was apprehensive about meeting new people. But after a really fun session filled with laughter and playdough she didn’t want me to leave. And just a few miles down road in Tonbridge, I take a calmer approach with quiet walks and reading time because the child can suffer seizures if he becomes over-excited. It’s all about adapting the session to the child and choosing activities that are suited to them.
"And while all of this fun is happening – mum, dad, brothers and sisters – have a few hours spare to do whatever it is they would like or need to do. I have one mum who likes to chat for 15 minutes when I arrive and then she takes herself off to bed. She wakes at the end of the sessions, refreshed, recharged and ready to face the world again. I have another parent who uses the time to go and do her food shopping. She simply wouldn’t have the opportunity to step out of the front door if I wasn’t able to care for her vulnerable child. For some families the upheaval of packing up all of their child’s medications and equipment to stay at the hospice is too much to organise. But a couple of hours of respite at home is enough to relieve some of the strain and make a world of difference.
"After years in different jobs I have finally found the one that makes me jump out of bed in the morning. I know the positive impact I am making and in time my dream would be to train and qualify as a Demelza Registered Nurse. But for now, I am happy to be that friendly face at the front door and helping hand at home for families facing the toughest of times.”
Health Care Assistant, Hettie Keelty