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A space to recharge

Ronald McDonald Family Room, Southland Hospital volunteer Sandra Finnerty knows first-hand how much support the Family Rooms provide. Here's her incredible story, in her own words.

February 2011 is a month I’ll never forget. I was 31 weeks pregnant when a routine visit with my midwife ended with me in Southland Hospital after my blood pressure sky rocketed and I had developed severe pre-eclampsia. Two days later, Sara was born. She was tiny, weighing only 1250g. She had some issues with her lungs and was flown to Dunedin Hospital and put on a ventilator. I joined her 24 hours later, and for three weeks we stayed in Dunedin, away from our home with very little support. I was able to stay onsite, but my husband Nigel had to stay at a hotel. Being separated from him was difficult.

We returned to Invercargill and Sara spent another five weeks at Southland Hospital’s Neonatal Unit (NNU) while we travelled to and from home each day to see her. We live about 20 minutes from the hospital and despite knowing Sara was being well cared for by the wonderful doctors and nurses, this was still a difficult time. The Ronald McDonald Family Room, Southland Hospital didn’t exist back then.

The Neonatal Unit is a very emotionally charged place. When you are there for hours on end, it’s exhausting and there was nowhere to escape. When I did leave her to go home to sleep, I suffered from the guilt of not being with her.

Two years later, in November 2013, I was 24 weeks pregnant when the unthinkable happened and I developed severe pre-eclampsia again.

It had been a hot day, and I was feeling a bit light-headed so my husband told me to take my blood pressure. It was really high, so I rang the midwife. She was off duty, so I contacted her back up, but it took awhile before I could get hold of her. When I did, she was already at the hospital waiting for me. I dropped Sara, who was now two, at my mother’s place, expecting that all would be fine. I didn’t see her again for three weeks.

As soon as the test results came back, I was ordered onto a bed and told I’d be transferred to Dunedin. I was a bit in denial about how serious things were. I rang my husband at work to let him know, and he offered to come but I told him there was no point as nothing would happen that night. I was wrong. Everything became a whirlwind up until the point they told me I’d had a baby boy. He weighed just 510g.

This time, we were in Dunedin for three months with Cooper. When we first arrived, accommodation was scarce due to university graduations, but we eventually found an apartment 15 minutes from the hospital. It was hard going. Unlike the Ronald McDonald Family Room, where you are close to your baby, surrounded by other families, and are looked after by Helen and the volunteers, I spent so much of that time on my own with Sara.

The hospital staff were great, but we just felt so hopeless. Nigel was back at work so would come to Dunedin Wednesday to Sunday. I remember one Tuesday night, I got a call at 2am from the hospital saying they had to resuscitate Cooper again. It was so hard because I had Sara and couldn’t leave her to go see him.

When we were transferred down to Southland Hospital’s NNU, it was like returning home. The same lovely staff were there from two years prior, and we knew our way around the unit and how it operated.  Given we only lived 20 minutes away and I had Sara to look after, I stayed at home at night and travelled into the hospital each day.

The Ronald McDonald Family Room had only just opened and we were warmly welcomed in by Helen as day guests.

I was blown away by the facility and how much easier it made life when you are living in the hospital bubble. To be able to walk out of the Neonatal Unit and take time to have a cup of tea and get something to eat, read a book or relax in a comfy chair while only being 20 metres away from your baby made all the difference to my mental health. When visitors arrived, instead of hanging around with your baby and getting in the way of other families, you could take them to the Family Room to catch up.

Then, when Cooper was 15 months old, he was admitted to the Children’s Ward. The doctors and nurses could see I was distraught and exhausted and arranged for me to stay at the Family Room for the week. I got to learn first-hand about the comfortable rooms and wonderful care provided for people needing accommodation.

Two years ago, when Cooper started school, I began volunteering at the Family Room with Helen as a way of ‘paying it forward’.

I would really encourage anyone who has the time to volunteer at the Family Room. It isn’t hard work but it makes a big difference, and you get far more out of it than you put in. It’s such a lovely warm, clean and welcoming environment and such an asset to the Southland community.

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