"Even though Dennis was in hospital, we were able to be together as a family"

Helen, mum to two-year-old Dennis, knows our Ronald McDonald Houses well. Having stayed at the Camberwell House for over five months this year, she has previously stayed for extended periods at our Evelina London House, and at its predecessor, the Guy’s and St Thomas’ House.

We were thrilled to catch up with Helen at the Camberwell House Christmas Party and discover her Ronald McDonald House Charities story.

“We come back to Camberwell for BBQs and parties like this. Whenever we have outpatient appointments, if we can fit it in, we’ll quite often pop in to say hello to the staff, to let them see how Dennis is getting on.

Dennis is doing ok, he’s growing. He’s two years old and in three to six month baby clothes. He’s growing bigger all the time, but slow and steady wins the race. So, he’s getting on fine.

My favourite thing about the Camberwell House is that it feels so homely. It feels like a ‘home from home’. It’s just so friendly, it’s warm, it’s comfortable, and it’s small, which means it feels safe and cosy, which is what you want when you’re in a very big, busy hospital.

Today was the first time Dennis has ever met Father Christmas. His first Christmas he was on the Neonatal Ward and last Christmas he was so vulnerable to catching colds, we couldn’t take him out of the house. We never went to a Santa’s Grotto or met Father Christmas anywhere else. So today is actually the first time and Dennis sat on his knee! He loved the glasses, he loved the beard! He loved everything.

We live in Kent, in Whitstable, which is about two hours’ drive away. So we got in the car this morning and drove up here to come along for today’s party. It’s a long journey…it’s a long way from home, so that’s why it’s so critical that when we have a stay in hospital, we get a room at a Ronald McDonald House. Sometimes you have to wait for a room to come up but the first thing I do when I get admitted to hospital with Dennis is I get on the phone and try to get the team at the Ronald McDonald House aware that we’re here, because it’s my saving grace.

My husband Stuart, Dennis’s dad, he is home and works in the week and comes up at the weekend, but I’m here 24/7 in the hospital with Dennis. You can’t do long stays in hospital without that respite. You need to get away, leave the ward totally, come back for a hot shower, a comfortable bed, comfortable surroundings. I’m able to recharge my batteries each night so I can wake up the next day and do another 13 hour day in the hospital. The House also does things like provide food, sandwiches are donated, sometimes volunteers come in to cook, so it’s lovely.

Volunteers that work within the House also pop over and visit us on the hospital ward, which is nice. I like that they make an effort to see what our life is like at the hospital as well. They’re not just in the Ronald McDonald House bubble. Often we can’t get away from the ward, so sometimes it’s really nice to have a friendly face coming over for a visit.

My older children have come to visit me at the House. We did Mother’s Day and Easter here, as well as Father’s Day, in the first half of this year. Each time, the kids came up, they visited Dennis on the ward, but then we came back to the House, and we ate dinner and we sat in the lounge. We did normal family stuff, which was good, and it brought the whole family together. Even though Dennis was in hospital, we were able to be together as a family.”

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