Inspiring mum opened a care home to help other parents after losing her baby son Hugh
After the death of her son, Ade Stack opened Hugh's House, a facility for parents with children in long-term hospital care
It wasn't so much the death of her eight-month-old baby that spurred Ade Stack to do something remarkable in his name, it was what she witnessed during his short life that made her honour his memory in an extraordinary way.
Hugh was born on December 13, 2012, and spent almost his entire life in hospital. While Ade and her partner Marty Curley spent 247 days living the heightened reality that comes with caring for a seriously ill child, they saw at first hand how other parents struggled to cope.
"I remember feeling drunk with tiredness, and seeing parents sleeping on the floor or in a chair to be near their child," says Ade. "It was cruel, particularly for people who had to come up from the country. Some couldn't afford to buy a cup of tea, and there were no facilities. They couldn't even wash their clothes. When they went home, they'd spend their time washing clothes for the following week."
When Hugh died, Ade and Marty decided to use the money they would have spent on him, had he lived, to help families of sick children. They bought a big house in Belvedere Place in the heart of Dublin and transformed it into a bright, welcoming home. Called Hugh's House, it's run entirely by volunteers, and accommodation is completely free of charge.
In the two years since Hugh's House opened its doors, more than 200 families have stayed there while their children were cared for in the nearby hospitals of Temple Street, the Rotunda and Holles Street. There are seven family bedrooms. Its occupants talk of the homely atmosphere, the support they get from being able to talk to other parents who understand what they're going through, and the relief of being able to do the simplest things, like sleeping in a comfortable bed and doing laundry.
"Putting on a wash makes me emotional to this day," says Ade. "That's when I talk to Hugh. I tell him that because we do this in his name, people can be refreshed and feel good about themselves. They can live as normal a life as possible during the precious time they have with their children.
"When a child dies, we have to let them go, but you don't let the love go. Putting on the washing is how I love Hugh."
Ade also runs a chain of pharmacies while raising her and Marty's three other children, Theo (7), Fred (5) and Jeff (seven months). She spends a great deal of time in Hugh's House, and thanks to her efforts and those of fundraisers and volunteers, later this year, the house next door - Zion's House, named after a little boy who shared a room with Hugh - will open its doors to accommodate four more families.
Margaret Kelly from Easkey, Co Sligo has stayed in Hugh's House since her son Mark was born prematurely on March 2 last, weighing just 710g (1.5lb).
"Mark came into the world in a hurry," says Margaret. "He's still in the ICU in Holles Street, and will be there for some time because he has a heart murmur, but thankfully, he's doing much better. He's off all the drips and I can hold him, which is wonderful."
Like most mothers of premature babies, Margaret was discharged while Mark remained in intensive care. At the time Hugh's House was full, and she went home to Easkey with a heavy heart.
"It was horrible," she says. "I had a child, but he wasn't with me. I was miserable without him, but a few days later, we got a call to say that a room had become available in Hugh's House. It was ours if we wanted it, for as long as we needed it. I can't describe how much that meant to me and my husband Gerard. Accommodation in Dublin is expensive and we have no relations there. I don't know how we'd have managed without it.
"Hugh's House is so close to the hospital, I can hop on a bus and be there in minutes. I spend all my days with my little boy and in the evenings, I have dinner here with other parents, talking about our children and sharing tips. It's a great support when you're away from your own family.
"My room is cosy and comfortable. It feels like home, and the other parents feel like family. I can't describe how lovely it is to come and go as I please and be able to sleep at night knowing that Mark is happy and well cared for, and that I'll see him in the morning. It's a fantastic feeling."
First-time mum Laura Dwyer from Bruff, Co Limerick, spent three weeks in Hugh's House when her daughter Lucy was delivered by emergency Caesarean section at 28 weeks on February 25 this year. She weighed 815g, less than 2lb.
"Things happened so fast, it was a lot to take in," says Laura. "I'd been rushed to Holles Street from Limerick Maternity Hospital and Lucy was born before my husband Wayne got here." When Laura was discharged a week later, Lucy remained in the ICU in Holles Street.
"Apart from the worry about her, there were practical things to consider," she says. "I work in a supermarket and Wayne's a pig farmer. I couldn't afford to come up and down to Dublin, not knowing how long I'd need to be there."
So when Laura heard she'd got a room at Hugh's House, she was over the moon.
"It was home from home," she says. "I made friends with other couples there, and after days spent with our babies, we'd sit and have dinner together in the evenings, swapping stories and sharing advice. To have that support, especially when you're away from your own family and friends, is priceless.
"There was even a little welcome pack when I arrived, with deodorant, face wipes, a facecloth and other essentials… It was really thoughtful, but that's Ade Stack for you. She's amazing. She'd pop in and out and I could talk to her if I was worried about anything."
Three weeks later, Lucy was well enough to be transferred to Limerick Maternity Hospital, and Laura returned home to Bruff.
"It's wonderful to be back home and have my supports around me, but I'll never forget my time in Hugh's House," she says. "People don't realise the emotional rollercoaster you're on when you have a premature baby, and how much you want to be with them. Lucy's lungs were not fully developed, but she's a little fighter. I was lucky that I got to see her every day. How torturous it must be for those parents who can't do that. There needs to be a Hugh's House in Limerick, and all over Ireland for that matter."
Hugh's House has just launched an inaugural cycle along a 600km route from Mizen Head to Malin Head on August 3-7. To donate, volunteer or find out more, visit hughshouse.ie