We recently caught up with Jenna Heritage, Senior Registered Nurse, within our Care at Home team, here at Demelza. Jenna shared with us her journey into palliative care and her experience of working through the pandemic; speaking about what has changed in terms or care delivery and what she is looking forward to when normality returns...

When I was at university doing a sociology degree my foster sister, who has cerebral palsy (CP) and complex health needs, developed bowel problems and spent five months in The Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital. For the next few years her health deteriorated and in my final year she became very poorly and was in PICU (Paediatric Intensive Care Unit). While she was there, I spoke to a nurse about my plans and she suggested I think about nursing. In the meantime, my sister was referred to Demelza Care at Home, we met the team and had them ready in the background, in case they were needed.

Fast forward five years and I had qualified as a children's nurse and was working at the Evelina London Children's Hospital when I spotted an advert for a senior ‘Care at Home’ nurse at Demelza. I remembered how supportive Demelza had been for my family so I applied for the job, I did not have enough experience on this occasion but the palliative care seed had been sown.

After a few years’ experience at Richard House Children's Hospice, I re-applied to join Demelza’s Care at Home team - and this time, I was successful!

Demelza Nurse smiling in her uniform

I have been with Demelza for over 14 years now. I love that we have time to support the whole family as well as the young person. No two days are the same; we have a caseload of families and support them in lots of ways including respite, end of life care, attending meetings, supporting families, symptom management, bereavement support, liaising with other professionals, memory making and one of my favourite activities - the Christmas party.

It is a privilege that families let us support them on their journey.

And, in case you are wondering; when I joined Demelza my sister was discharged from the ‘Care at Home’ service. It turns out she wasn't quite ‘end of life’ - she turned 37 last month!

During the pandemic we were not able to go in to the office and lots of families understandably didn't want extra people in their homes, so we were working from home. We have all been good at keeping in touch with other members of the team and I think in some ways COVID-19 has strengthened our team.

We helped families by collecting prescriptions and offering to collect shopping; we made lots phone calls to check how families were coping. We still supported families with end-of-life care and bereavement support, and were able to offer access to our sensory room for families so they had a safe place to visit as things began to open up.

For me, one of the highlights over the past year was dressing as an elf to deliver Christmas presents to the children. Later that day I received a text message from a mum saying that her little boy had been telling everyone he had been visited by a REAL elf - thanks to the face mask he hadn't recognised me!

As the world starts to get back to normal more families are happy to have us provide support in their homes. All our staff have had their COVID-19 vaccines and we still do regular tests, as well as wearing the appropriate PPE when we visit.

We are all looking forward to being able to take children out to do fun activities and make memories. Personally, I'm looking forward to getting that elf costume back on for our next Christmas party!

Our nursing and care team is the heartbeat of Demelza, and with compassion and expert clinical care all wrapped up in one they give children and families the vital support they need. Right now, we can only support one in five families who need our help.

We want to be able to support more families in your local community, but we need your help to do this. Will you help by making a donation to The Nursing Appeal?

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