Support Families Who Have a Terminally Ill Child

by Rainbow Trust Children's Charity
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Support Families Who Have a Terminally Ill Child
Support Families Who Have a Terminally Ill Child
Support Families Who Have a Terminally Ill Child

When Holly’s son Oliver was born at their local hospital, he was immediately rushed to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to have emergency surgery at just one day old.

Their first four weeks in Newborn Intensive Care were overwhelming for her and her husband, Dominic. Holly says: “Every single day it felt like we received more bad news, another thing wrong with Oliver. Another diagnosis to get to grips with and another specialist consultant to add to the list. We were completely consumed, overwhelmed and in shock.”

Oliver was diagnosed with a rare condition where you have a collection of birth defects called VACTERL. Each letter stands for a different area where a defect can be present and Oliver has five of the seven defects.

The most complex treatment is for his life-threatening kidney disease. His remarkable renal team kept him off haemodialysis (a procedure where the blood is pumped into a machine that filters it before being returned to the body) for two years, with an ever-changing combination of medicines, special feeds, tube feeding and fluid management.

Oliver’s condition is incredibly complex and means he has considerable ongoing health care needs and his mobility is affected. Oliver has 14 consultants and a further 23 professionals involved in his care.

Marlene has been the family’s Rainbow Trust Family Support Worker for three years now.

Marlene has been a Family Support Worker with Rainbow Trust for 19 years. During this time she has helped hundreds of children, parents and their wider families who have been affected by serious childhood illness, in many ways. Each and every family we support is different and their needs evolve over time, but some things are true for everyone who childhood illness touches: when a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening or serious illness everything changes. The pressure on the parents and the brothers and sisters of the seriously ill child is immense and dealing with it can be totally overwhelming. The experience could be utterly traumatic for the entire family.

Holly says: “For me, it’s the hard to describe, intangible things Marlene does that make the most difference, especially to my own mental wellbeing. Being able to talk openly and honestly to Marlene gives me an ‘outlet’ – a way of venting and processing everything.”

The most significant practical thing Marlene has supported Oliver’s family with is hospital transport. Holly and Dominic were both struggling to balance their part time jobs, getting Oliver’s six-year-old brother, Thomas, to and from school and driving to Manchester – a four hour round trip - three times a week.

This was exacerbated by the pandemic as a lot of their support stopped. Rainbow Trust put the relevant COVID-19 measures in place and Marlene started to take them to Manchester once a week. This has made a difference not only on a practical level, but also a financial and emotional level to the family.

Marlene also provides sibling support to Thomas, who needs dedicated time and attention.

If you can help this Christmas please donate today so more families like Oliver’s can benefit from this invaluable support. To some families the help of a Family Support Worker like Marlene is a lifeline.

Please accept my warmest wishes for a peaceful and happy Christmas.

Oliver very ill in hospital
Oliver very ill in hospital
Big brother Thomas with Oliver
Big brother Thomas with Oliver
Family Support Worker Marlene and Oliver
Family Support Worker Marlene and Oliver


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Family Support Worker Sarah with Erin
Family Support Worker Sarah with Erin

The nature of life-threatening and terminal conditions in children is such that many families find themselves living under intense uncertainty for long periods of time. Their lives can change dramatically over that time, and so having a trusted constant throughout to help navigate the changes can make a positive difference in their lives.

Erin is seven years old and has multiple long term and life-threatening conditions, including heart, kidney and liver disease, vasculitis and severe hypertension. Erin has had sepsis many times and has an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack and kill blood cells. Erin has to date received 112 blood transfusions.

Family Support Worker Sarah started supporting the family in 2015 when Erin was a baby after a referral by a Community Nurse. Initially, Sarah helped out with hospital appointments, driving mum Helen and Erin to London, so she didn’t have to worry about parking or traffic, which Helen says was an enormous relief. Sarah would care for Erin so that Helen could have a break.

Erin was very fragile, needing constant care, which made it very difficult for Helen to live a normal life. Helen was unable to work and they were forced to move in with her father, Erin’s grandad Phil, due to the pressure of finances. Sarah also supported Phil when he began to struggle with the pressure of caring for Erin, and the regular stays in hospital.

Five years on, Sarah continues to support Erin and her family. Erin is now seven years old and she suffers with loneliness due to her inability to play with others, because she is so seriously ill. She does not have many people in her life, but Family Support Worker Sarah is a trusted constant, reducing the family’s isolation and giving them opportunities to have fun together.

Erin has multiple appointments with specialists, she takes 17 types of medication and has frequent blood tests. Sarah has helped to join up the services supporting Erin, liaising with professionals to ensure consistency in Erin’s care.

“When others could not be there with us, when we were in very vulnerable situations, Sarah’s been there. She has given us both support and friendship. She has been present and by my side in awful and traumatic medical consultations where we have received terrible news. She listened and was there for us. You do not want to have to repeat or recount that to anyone, and with Sarah you do not have to as she was there by our side. Even if Sarah cannot be there in person, like during lockdown, just a phone call makes all the difference as she knows what to say to me. Sarah understands and is there for us both.”

Rainbow Trust Family Support Workers provide bespoke continued support to families like Erin's, helping to negotiate life after a diagnosis. We offer practical and emotional support to the whole family, through their darkest times.

It is only thanks to your donations that families like Erin's have the help they need. Thank you for your support. 

Erin makes a rainbow in lockdown
Erin makes a rainbow in lockdown
Erin with grandad Phil
Erin with grandad Phil
Mum Helen, Erin and Family Support Worker Sarah
Mum Helen, Erin and Family Support Worker Sarah


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I have been working as a Family Support Worker for Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity for over two and a half years.

The day featured below took place when lockdown restrictions were eased and I followed all protocols by wearing a face covering when doing face to face support, following social distancing when required and using hand sanitizer throughout the day.

I picked up seven-year-old Billy’s mum from Great Ormond Street Hospital. Billy is in isolation after having a bone marrow transplant at the end of October and had been staying with Mum for the past four days in isolation.

Whilst I drove Mum to the adult education centre where she is studying for a Certificate we talked about how she has been and she told me how Billy is evolving and about her worries. She thanked me for the forty-five minutes lift - this normally takes her two hours, having to take three different buses.

Then, I went to their house for a play session with her two youngest daughters; they were both home from nursery, which was closed because of COVID-19.

During the two hour session we had lots of fun playing tea parties, making towers with their Duplo bricks and I read them Peppa Pig stories, which they really enjoyed.

I then went to an after-school activity session with Jay, who is nine years old, and his older brother Matthew, 11 years old, at their home. I have been supporting them for the past eight months. Jay has chronic kidney disease so he must catheterize his bladder every two to three hours to reduce the stress on them.

Jay and I had fun painting and we chatted about how school was going. Then, Matthew and I had fun making superhero Lego figures and chatting about what we would have as a superpower if we were a superhero.

Matthew told me that he would like to have either a hammer like Thor or the claws of Wolverine. I told him that I would like to have the superpowers like the Flash or be invisible like the invisible man.

We also chatted about how school was going as he had started at a new school after moving house. He told me that he was doing okay, that he has made some new friends and is enjoying his lessons.

Before I headed back home, I had a chat with Mum and she told me that, as they can’t afford a car, when they need to do a big shop they have to go by taxi, which stretches the family’s budget. I offered help to go shopping, providing transport to both reduce any risks of getting COVID-19 and reduce the cost for her. We arranged that I would come and see her tomorrow to take her to the supermarket.

This work is only possible thanks to your support. Thank you for all you do to help us deliver it to families with a seriously ill child.


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Aimee and Phoebe
Aimee and Phoebe

My name is Aimee and I would like to tell you about the difficult journey we have been on since 2015.

My daughter, Phoebe, was just 14 months old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. The whole world came crashing down for me and my husband, Nathan.

Phoebe spent two months in the oncology ward, very ill. We tried to keep things as normal as possible for Ollie, our three-year-old son, but juggling everyday tasks with Phoebe’s illness was very hard.

Rainbow Trust Family Support Worker, Amelia, started supporting us, providing sibling support to Ollie, playing, looking after him and comforting him.

It was such a weight off my shoulders knowing that Amelia was looking after Ollie so that I could be with my sick child.

Phoebe had chemotherapy every day for two and a half years and trying to split time between her and Ollie was really hard. With Amelia's support Ollie became a happier child, more confident and more settled. Amelia gave him play time and fun and emotional support - she was there especially for Ollie and this made a huge difference.

After nearly three years of gruelling treatment Phoebe recovered. But, just before Christmas last year, she relapsed.

Phoebe needed a bone marrow transplant so we faced a major medical procedure, the risk of side effects and Phoebe being in isolation at the hospital for at least six weeks.

Rainbow Trust Family Support Worker, Charlotte, started supporting Phoebe ahead of her bone marrow transplant but on 1 December Phoebe was admitted to intensive care. She was unable to talk or walk and slept for most of the days. Her brain shut down.

We were devastated and very frightened. For a while, the doctors could not work out what was happening and told us to prepare that Phoebe may not get better.

Family Support Worker, Charlotte, was by my side, focussing on my emotional and physical wellbeing at this horrendous and very scary time. Charlotte helped me to cope with the uncertainty of it all.

Then, the day before Christmas Eve, Phoebe woke up. This was a wonderful early Christmas present but we didn’t have a special Christmas, all together as a family, at home.

This is not the way it should be for a family at Christmas time.

After spending a short time at home Phoebe went back to hospital in January for the bone marrow transplant. Whilst isolating for six weeks in hospital, Charlotte visited to provide emotional support through play and allow her time to talk about her worries.

Phoebe went home in March but became really ill again and ended up in intensive care.

Since September 2019, Phoebe and I have been at home - and not in hospital - for only eight weeks and throughout all this time Charlotte has provided bespoke emotional and practical support, also innovating and adapting amidst a global pandemic.

Many life-threatened children and their families are living through traumatic experiences alone. With no support. No one to turn to. A donation this Christmas would help change that.

Thank you for all your support and whatever you can give today. 

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas.

Family Support Worker, Charlotte, and Phoebe
Family Support Worker, Charlotte, and Phoebe
Aimee and Phoebe in hospital, last Christmas
Aimee and Phoebe in hospital, last Christmas
Phoebe in hospital
Phoebe in hospital


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Our latest report, #PandemicPressures, outlines the change in the role of our Family Support Workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure families caring for a life-threatened or seriously ill child still get the support they need.

Family Support Worker, Charlotte, was using child-led play but when the lockdown began, it was suddenly necessary to switch these sessions to video calls. Charlotte provided 13 families with this support, virtually playing each week with children between the ages of three and 14.

She said: "Whilst enjoying playing together with a sibling of a little girl who is recovering from cancer, she unexpectedly said to me, 'Charlotte, I would really like to talk to you about my feelings'. Each child is different but most of them jump straight into the world of play, and I will end up going wherever that takes us.

"I've been on a virtual pony trek (fashioning a pony from a stool), pretended to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, had a teddy bear's picnic and even hosted a birthday party for the Gruffalo."

Charlotte is continuing to provide a mix of face-to-face support and virtual play depending on the family's circumstances.

Rachel's son, Frank, 12, has Batten Disease and is completely reliant on others for his care as he cannot move himself or communicate. He is especially vulnerable to chest infections which means COVID-19 is a grave threat to his health.

In case Rachel or her husband became ill, she ran through Frank's medication with her older children who were 16 and 19 at the time.

She said: "They were prepared to do everything they could, and they had to have a crash course in how to do things... I'm sure that was quite daunting for them."

Looking ahead, Rachel continues to feel anxious and will remain vigilant. "The virus has not gone away. Frank is still very vulnerable."

Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity has quickly innovated and adapted its service, in line with local guidance, to make sure that as many families as possible receive the tailored support that they need, whether virtually or face to face.

Your donations make this work possible for families with a seriously ill child so we are very grateful for each and every donation we receive.

Thank you for your support. We can't do this work without you.

Family Support Worker, Charlotte
Family Support Worker, Charlotte
Frank, who is supported by Rainbow Trust
Frank, who is supported by Rainbow Trust


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Organization Information

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Location: Leatherhead, Surrey - United Kingdom
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @RainbowTrustCC
Project Leader:
Hanne Widmer
Leatherhead , Surrey United Kingdom
$30,523 raised of $40,000 goal
629 donations
$9,477 to go
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