Published on 13 November 2020
When nine-year-old Abbie Paice needed an MRI scan, she was understandably frightened.
Step forward East Kent Hospitals’ play specialists Ailish O’Hara and Lorraine Cassar, who showed her a Lego replica the team had painstakingly created of the scanning room, and used a virtual reality headset to show Abbie what to expect.
It was the latest intervention from the expert team at the William Harvey Hospital, who have been a huge part of Abbie’s life since she was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of just two.
And now family and friends have vowed to help them help other children, by raising money to buy specialist equipment they can use to help distract or entertain youngsters while they are in hospital.
Abbie’s mum Lisah-Jayne, from Chartham, said: “It’s impossible to overestimate the impact of the play specialists.
“They always make Abbie feel so welcome, and take the time to find out what she likes and is interested in.
“When she was younger a lot of it was about distraction, but now it’s about helping to prepare her for tests like the scan and making sure she feels safe and reassured.
“The doctors and nurses are absolutely fantastic but the play specialists are totally focussed on making sure children are comfortable and having fun and that is a hugely important role.”
Abbie was treated for leukaemia from 2012 to 2015, and celebrated five years in remission this year. But a few weeks ago she started experiencing worrying symptoms including headaches, nausea and extreme fatigue.
Tests have ruled out a return of the cancer, but Abbie will need to spend more time in hospital for tests and treatment.
Lisah-Jayne said: “We wouldn’t have got through everything without the play specialists. They have been such a huge part of Abbie’s life over the past eight years and they are just amazing.
“They watch children going through all sorts of things, blood tests, cannulas being inserted, chemo, and they don’t bat an eyelid. They never look distressed or scared and that is so reassuring to the child.
“At the moment the children can’t have any visitors and while the play specialists don’t replace grandparents or other family members they do help fill that void.
“It takes a really special person to do the job and we just wanted to give something back.”
Initially, Lisah-Jayne, husband Mike, and other relatives donated, raising more than £1,000.
But then a friend set up an online fundraiser so Abbie’s schoolfriends and others could also donate.
Some of the money has already been used to buy toys and equipment but the family are now hoping to raise £1,200 for a mobile TV and computer game unit that can be used by the children when they are in bed.
To donate to the fundraiser, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/hayley-lawler?utm_term=zrbVe9zx9