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Creating lasting memories in end of life care

Lead nurse Candice St John has a unique way to help bereaved families remember their children

Lead nurse Candice St John has a unique way to help bereaved families remember their children

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Candice St John with a patient from Tŷ Hafan hospice. Picture with consent.

 

Helping families who use the Tŷ Hafan hospice in south Wales create lasting memories of their children has become an important part of the work of lead nurse Candice St John.

Ms St John started by making handprints in clay and plaster as a hobby and found that families loved to create casts with their children. The bespoke service is offered free of charge and Ms St John has started to train other staff in the skills at the hospice, in Sully, Cardiff.

Ms St John, who scooped the Suzanne Goodall paediatric award at the 2017 RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year awards in November, says: ‘We make the casts so that they have something to remember their children by, and the families are very positive about it.

‘We have also recently started a type of baby book with families. The children often don’t meet the normal milestones, but our book encourages them to make memories of the time they have. Families can fill them in, and put pictures in, and write little things about what they remember they did.’

Diploma

Ms St John always knew she wanted to be a children’s nurse and, in 1999, she began a diploma in children’s nursing at what is now Cardiff University.

She then worked at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, gathering experience in a range of children’s units, including medical wards for babies, then for older children. There followed a stint on a paediatric assessment unit and then on a paediatric high dependency unit.

After several years in acute care, she felt ready for a new challenge, but did not know what it should be until she heard of someone going to work at Tŷ Hafan.

She says: ‘I always liked looking after children with complex needs, I was successful at the interview and have never looked back. I love my job here.’

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Candice St John (centre) receiving the Suzanne Goodall paediatric award
at the 2017 RCN in Wales Nurse of the Year awards. Picture: Huw John

The hospice has ten beds and typically has eight children, who stay for short break care, end of life care and crisis and symptom control. Outreach services include family and sibling support, complementary therapies and play therapies.

For the past six months, Ms St John has been lead nurse, managing a team of staff and running the shift. She has also contributed to the hospice being part of the quality assurance group, undertaking essential audits in-house and benchmarking with other hospices nationally to improve the services delivered in this field.

Holistic care

Ms St John heartily recommends that other children’s nurses consider working in hospices. Staff can provide holistic care and will often care for the same children who visit the hospice for many years, building close relationships with the families.

‘Some days are sad and you will be with a family who are saying their goodbyes, but most of the time it is a fun place to be,’ she says. ‘The hospice is right on the sea, so it is also beautiful and calming.’

Even for nurses who never plan to work in a children’s hospice, visiting just for a day or a short stint can be an enlightening experience, and can banish the perception that it may be a depressing place, Ms St John says.

Working in a hospice can mean coping with extreme emotional changes, from the upsetting to to the uplifting.

‘Some people cannot deal with it,’ Ms St John says. ‘You have got to be resilient, fun and have a good sense of humour. You also have to be compassionate and knowledgeable with children’s end of life care. And willing to learn – I am learning every day here.’

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