‘End-of-life care need not also

Cynon Valley - - ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE - JESSICA WAL­FORD jessica.wal­ford@waleson­line.co.uk

WATCH­ING some­one die is a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

But for some peo­ple it’s their job to look af­ter peo­ple in their fi­nal hours.

Pulling up on the gravel drive­way in the mid­dle of an in­dus­trial es­tate, Ty Hafan can feel out of place.

Pass­ing signs that read “Warn­ing: chil­dren at play” re­mind you this is a place where chil­dren are ever-present. But it’s also a place where chil­dren come to die.

The hos­pice, manned by 232 staff, cur­rently sup­ports 249 chil­dren, with an av­er­age age of three years old.

Most come for respite care, ei­ther dur­ing the week or at the week­end, and since 1999 the hos­pice has sup­ported 761 chil­dren. Most are aged six to 10 years old.

Dur­ing that time 309 chil­dren have also died at the hos­pice.

But it’s not about death at Ty Hafan. It’s about celebrating life. And staff at the hos­pice in­tend to do just that, no mat­ter how long a child has left.

Lead nurse Adrian Smith, 42, started work­ing at Ty Hafan, based in Sully in the Vale of Glam­or­gan, more than two years ago.

“I think peo­ple come here with a pre­con­cep­tion of what it’s go­ing to look like,” he said.

“Be­fore I came here I didn’t know what I was go­ing to see. I thought it was all about kids dy­ing and it would be a re­ally sad place.

“But I re­mem­ber walk­ing through the doors and not be­ing able to be­lieve the size of the place and how bright it was. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘This would be a nice place to work’.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing a de­gree in Welsh stud­ies and theatre stud­ies at Trin­ity Col­lege in Car­marthen­shire, and work­ing in a par­cel fac­tory af­ter he grad­u­ated, Adrian was at a loose end.

But af­ter spot­ting an ad­vert to train as a nurse, the fa­ther of two found a ca­reer that would change his life.

Af­ter study­ing for a three-year diploma in nurs­ing, Adrian worked in a chil­dren’s ward in Guild­ford, Sur­rey, for three years be­fore re­turn­ing closer to home in Cardiff when his el­dest daugh­ter was born.

He now lives in the Rhondda with his wife and two daugh­ters, aged eight and 12.

Adrian then worked in A&E for a decade be­fore switch­ing to work at the chil­dren’s hos­pice – and it’s been a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.

“[You get] a lot more time to be able to talk to the fam­i­lies,” he said.

“I can re­mem­ber sit­ting down in one of the bed­rooms here and I was just chat­ting away to one of the mums and be­ing there for a quar­ter of an hour and I looked down and thought, ‘I’ve been here for a long time’.

“No-one had come in to get me, no-one had come in say­ing I needed to do this and that. It was a to­tally dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere.

“Emo­tion­ally it’s more dif­fi­cult here. Al­though you saw things in A&E and thought, ‘How do I cope with that?’ it’s dif­fer­ent here be­cause a lot of the time we know the fam­i­lies.

“When you get into a sit­u­a­tion when you’re deal­ing with end of life, you’ve prob­a­bly got a good idea of what the fam­ily want, what their wishes are, so it makes it a bit dif­fi­cult.

“When they come crash­ing through the door in A&E you don’t know them at all.”

Adrian said while get­ting to know the fam­i­lies, and their wishes, was an ad­van­tage, it can some­times make it harder when chil­dren do pass away.

“The ma­jor­ity of cases we do get to know them and that’s fine,” he said. “You do get ready for it. But the chil­dren write their own sto­ries as well.

“You could have some­one come in for end-oflife care and they could be here for weeks and even­tu­ally come home and then come back again.

“Then you get some fam­i­lies where their first re­fer­ral will be straight out of in­ten­sive care straight to us and they die within a few hours of com­ing, so you haven’t re­ally got­ten to know that fam­ily.

“There’s a spec­trum – you might have known them a cou­ple of hours or you might have known them for years.”

When a child does die it can be tough to deal with.

“It’s dif­fi­cult,” Adrian said. “I don’t think you can ever get used to it.

“It’s some­thing that my ju­nior col­leagues will come up and say, ‘How do you deal with it?’ and I’ll al­ways say to them, ‘If

Ty Hafan team leader and nurse Adrian Smith de­scribes what it’s like to work at the chil­dren’s

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