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In the chapel, parents pray for their children. Please help the hospital to help them
In the old Victorian chapel at Great Ormond Street, with its child-sized pews and collection of soft toys along the window sills, hang messages that serve as a reminder of exactly why this hospital deserves a special place in all our hearts.
They were placed by those who came to escape the whirl of activity in the building outside; the doctors and nurses racing down corridors, the machines pumping blood into broken bodies, the surgeons working hour after hour to perform their most modern of miracles.
In the starkest of contrasts, the chapel is silent. A place of reflection and of prayer. Parents, often at the darkest hours of the night and often alone, come to sit beneath its stained glass windows to privately plead that their children will be among those made well again.
That their child can come home. Play. Grow up. Become what it is they will one day be. Free of pain. Free of suffering. Free of illness.
“Please, God, do not take my boy,” reads a prayer hung on a ribbon from a tree erected near the central nave. “Do not take my boy. Let him carry on bringing happiness to me.”
“Please build my son’s lungs,” calls another. “Help us. Make him stronger.”
One such prayer speaks of the anguish of those who are never able to leave as a family. “God,” it says, “hold my child to your arms now you are together. And send healing to his mother.”
But another tells of parents who went through the worst and — due to what this hospital does every day of every week of every year — emerged with all their prayers answered. “Thank you for the best gift of all. My boy home for Christmas,” the message says. “All fixed.”
It is why we here at this newspaper, supported by our sister papers The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday, are going to do all we can to help every single child who comes through the doors of Great Ormond Street hoping that they too will be “fixed”. Each day over the next few months we will tell of the struggles, the triumphs and the sadnesses which make up daily life at a hospital treating children with the most complex and life-threatening illnesses.
We will introduce you to the people who work there, the young people being treated and the parents who, while going through an emotional ordeal the rest of us can but imagine, have to keep being mummy or daddy to not only their sick son or daughter but, often, also their siblings too.
Many of you in London will this evening see GOSH volunteers standing beside our newspaper distributors, rattling buckets to start that fund-raising drive.
On the previous page are details of how you, our readers, can donate to this appeal. Every penny will go direct to the hospital.Together we can help create a new specialist unit for children with heart failure who are desperately in need of a transplant.
We can also help fund a range of projects to try to make life as normal as it can be for those families whose children are in the hospital, often for weeks or months at a time. We can help provide places for them to stay and also support the play specialists who design games to help the children in their treatment, and to make their stay as stress-free as possible.
Visiting Great Ormond Street, I met one of the families being helped in just this way. Two years ago the Frosts learned that their little boy Ralph’s kidneys weren’t working properly, resulting in them having to be removed. Now Ralph is at GOSH, and his mother and father take turns to sleep on a sofa by his bed. “He is only little,” his mother Amie told me, “but he is brave.” These are the people your donations will help.
Great Ormond Street may be based in London but those it treats come from all over Britain. Indeed more than half of patients come from outside the capital. Moreover the pioneering research done here helps children everywhere. Recently this newspaper broke the news of Layla Richards, the one-year-old girl who became the first person in the world to receive ground-breaking immune cell therapy to cure her “incurable” leukaemia.
Her condition had been classed as “hopeless” and it is only due to the experimental work done at Great Ormond Street that she is now classed cancer-free, and her treatment can be trialled for other children to similarly benefit across the country.
This is why funding research is another of our key objectives. We want to help make sure there are many more Laylas. This appeal will be funding new projects and buying research equipment, such as high-spec 3D printers to model replacement organs.
In particular we will be supporting the Louis Dundas Centre for Children’s Palliative Care, a world-class facility in the hospital that helps develop new ways of caring for those children who may not necessarily recover from their illnesses.
No child should have to die in pain, and no parent should have to witness their child die in pain. That is why the work done by the Louis Dundas Centre is so important, and the efforts made by its incredible doctors, nurses and teams of researchers will be profiled so extensively in these pages.
It was at the hospital chapel, a place which welcomes those from all faiths, that I met another parent, Emma McCartney. Her six-year-old, James, is very ill with a rare condition called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. His immune system has turned on him, damaging his bone marrow, liver and brain. James is now in isolation. He, Emma and her husband Tony have been living at Great Ormond Street for the last 180 days. Emma is the most normal of people, someone who used to wake up every morning and help make her family breakfast and take Jamie’s older sisters to school. “I now come here twice a day,” she told me of the chapel. “I never used to be religious before, but now I pray and pray.”
Great Ormond Street Hospital has relied on charitable support since it first opened. While the NHS meets the day-to-day running costs, it is donations that help it remain a special place, one where children can feel so loved, parents so supported and the research that enables more lives to be saved.
In the chapel, among all the messages that have been left there, I saw one that said simply, “Thank you, God. You know why.”
It is our objective that at the end of this appeal, parents who have their son or daughter treated here will know of another reason “why”.
It will be because of people like you who donated to our appeal so that Great Ormond Street Hospital can do what it does best: helping sick children get well, go home, and live the lives which otherwise would have been denied them. Thank you.