Carole Thacker was one of the few St Luke’s patients to have experienced both the old and new In Patient Centre facilities at Sheffield’s only hospice.
Shortly before her death she spoke frankly about how much St Luke’s meant to her and why the continued support of the people of Sheffield is so important.
Here is the story she wanted you to read - as we launch a new series of Star Aid features, helping to highlight the great work of our local charities, how they need your support and how you can help.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch a special video report about the work of St Luke’s Hospice.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: St Luke’s Hospice needs to raise around £4.9 million annually - to find out more and how you can get involved, see below and also visit www.stlukeshospice.org.uk.
Carole, of Woodseats, who spent more than 30 years as a teacher at Ashgate Croft School for Special Needs in Chesterfield, was one of the few people who could explain exactly what a difference the new £5 million St Luke’s In Patient Centre means to patients.
As she reached the end of her long battle with cancer 55 year old Carole was able to stay at the hospice and make the most of the en-suite facilities in one of 14 private rooms, all offering the sort of services that match the standard of nursing care for which St Luke’s has always been justifiably famous.
Or she could relax in the In Patient Centre’s spa room, with its special bath designed specifically for people with mobility problems, a soothing environment that offers both practicality and comfort and for many St Luke’s patients will be the first time they have been able to enjoy the experience of bathing for many months.
When Carole first arrived at the hospice for Christmas more than two years ago, though, work had yet to begin on the extraordinary transformation of services.
This was the time when the majority of patients still had to share their space, separated from each other only by curtain partitions.
In 1971, when St Luke’s first opened, it was at the forefront of the hospice movement, the first to be built outside London.
But four decades of constant wear and tear had left the fabric of the building in need of the sort of urgent care that could only be provided by a major rebuilding programme.
Patient needs and attitudes to care had also advanced enormously and shared bathrooms and a complete lack of privacy – not considered a problem in the early ‘70s – were at the forefront of the 21st century palliative care agenda.
“The one thing I do remember from that first visit was the mustard curtains,” Carole laughed, looking back on that first experience, before work on the hospice’s long awaited and overdue rebuilding had begun.
“I remember saying to my sister: ‘Don’t let me die behind mustard curtains’ because they really were revolting!
“It was a palliative care nurse at the Northern General Hospital who said I needed to go to St Luke’s because they would be able to give me the care and support and medication I needed to get on an even keel.”
Up to that point, Carole’s care was being provided primarily by her sister, who had travelled up from Derby to look after her.
But the sisters were increasingly aware that specialist support was urgently needed.
“I was so desperate for help and so relieved when I was told that I could go to St Luke’s to find the support I needed,” said Carole, though she admitted that even then she had second thoughts about hospice care.
“I think the impression everybody has is that a hospice is somewhere you go to die and but it isn’t like that at all.
“It is about care and getting you sorted out and it isn’t about the last moments of your life.
“From the minute I got here everybody was so warm and so welcoming and anything I needed they would get for me.”
More than two years later Carole was still being supported by St Luke’s and had experienced the new single bed en-suite facilities that have transformed the lives of patients and their families.
“I have seen huge changes,” she said, though she insisted that the one thing that had remained constant was the levels of care and support offered to both herself and her family by the whole St Luke’s team.
“St Luke’s has got something very rare and special about it that you can’t put your finger on, something that is unique – the medical care is wonderful and you trust it.
“They respect the dignity of the person and I have seen how important that is to me, I have seen how they look after a person.”
One thing Carole was very certain of was that she wanted St Luke’s to be part of her life to the very end.
“I have already said I don’t want to die anywhere else but here,” Carole said.
“I have seen how they respect the dignity of the person and I have seen how they look after the person.
“If there were words I could use to sum up St Luke’s it would be respect and dignity – I don’t know what my life would be like if I had never come to St Luke’s – I can’t believe I could manage without it really.”
Julie Drakeley, aged 49, a community patient, lives in Brincliffe with 17-year-old son Russ. She worked at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital as a project manager. In 2010 she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, which affects the body’s motor neurons – the cells that control muscle activity. In its advanced state can result in the inability to speak, swallow and even breathe.
She is currently being cared for by St Luke’s and says: “I think the one consistent thing that people agree on is blimey, this is just not what you think you are going to get when you walk in.
“It surpasses nearly everybody’s expectations that I’ve come across.
“The place is not about dying, it’s about living and enjoying your time, your life. I can never thank St Luke’s enough for the support they’ve given me.All of them, every member of staff here.”
ST LUKE’S HOSPICE AND HOW YOU CAN HELP
St Luke’s Hospice needs to fundraise £13,500 a day - or it would close in six months.
That’s the mountain climb ahead of its supporters, from business donations to coffee morning organisers. And that’s an awful lot of coffee.
The hospice is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year and looks after all the people of Sheffield and their families, not just within the hospice itself but as part of the community.
To maintain this level of care the hospice needs more than £7 million a year and it needs to raise more than £4.9 million of it, or around £13,500 a day.
That is why the constant support of the people of Sheffield is vital for its future. Without it the hospice would be closed within six months, says Medical Director Sam Kyeremateng.
It cares for people aged 18 and older who have incurable illnesses, helping to control their symptoms, alleviate pain and give them the best possible quality of life – all free of charge.
The hospice plays a central part in the network of palliative care nursing and support services in Sheffield, collaborating with several other organisations and agencies in the city.
It’s new In Patient Centre accommodates 20 patients in 14 single rooms and two three-bedded rooms.
But it doesn’t just care for cancer patients and it’s far more than a building. In fact, a surprise to many people, most of its patients never set foot in the hospice itself.
St Luke’s regards itself a “teaching hospice”, with a long tradition of supporting both education and academic research in all aspects of palliative care.
An executive team is responsible for the hospice’s strategy, planning and management, with trustees responsible for ensuring that St Luke’s is well-governed. Its distinguished President Lady Neill and Vice President Vice President Andrew Coombe, a retired partner in Keeble Hawson Solicitors, are not trustees, but play important roles as ambassadors and advocates for the hospice.
But all this comes at a cost.
The hospice depends entirely on the commitment and generosity of people across Sheffield and beyond to provide most of the money it needs.
St Luke’s Hospice, with its reception open 8am to 7.30pm, seven days a week, is in Little Common Lane, Sheffield, S11 9NE. Call 0114 236 9911.
To find out how you can support St Luke’s Hospice – through fundraising, regular giving, joining the St Luke’s Lottery or visiting one of the charity’s chain of shops across the city, visit its web site at www.stlukeshospice.org.uk.