Families with young children in hospital on the 'awe-inspiring' place that keeps them going at Christmas
'Christmas can go by the way-side when your child is sick'
As Christmas Day approaches, thousands of families across Ireland are wrapping presents, visiting family and getting their food for Santa and Rudolph ready.
For some sick children, Christmas day will be celebrated in hospital, miles from their homes and families.
Robbie Donnelly from Co Offaly has spent 18 months in Dublin as his sick son Henry receives cancer treatment in Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin.
Robbie and his wife Jean have three kids, Holly (9), Tiernan (7) and 18-month-old Henry, who has spent his whole life in hospital. The family are preparing to spend Christmas in Dublin at Hugh’s House Family Accommodation.
Hugh's House provides free accommodation for families with sick children in Temple Street Hospital and work all year long to make families feel at home, but especially at Christmas time.
Ade Stack from Dublin set up the charity after her baby son Hugh passed away in 2013 and she noticed the difficulty facing parents of sick children looking for accommodation in Dublin.
Robbie described the place as "amazing".
“I moved into Hugh’s House 14 months ago. My son Henry was born 18 months ago in Mullingar. He was born with Down syndrome and Tracheomalacia, and he has cancer,” Robbie told Independent.ie.
“Hugh’s House is an amazing place. There’s nowhere else in Dublin that would look after you for free when your sick child is in hospital. There’s free food and wifi, your laundry is done for you, there are no bills or anything else because it’s charity accommodation,” said Robbie.
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Robbie told Independent.ie that the “cosy” house is a great way to meet families who are in a similar situation.
“It’s warm, it’s cosy and you meet some incredible people here who are in the same boat as you and you can talk about your sick child and the experiences you’re going through.
“It really is awe-inspiring to be here with other families and share your stories and support one another.”
Robbie and his family will be spending Christmas at Hugh’s House but said that Christmas almost goes by unnoticed when you’ve a sick child.
“Christmas at Hugh’s House is like any other day. The importance is on your sick child in hospital and caring for them and sometimes Christmas goes by the way-side.
“In Hugh’s House we try to make things as Christmas-y as possible with decorations and trees. We’ll have a great big turkey and ham delivered up and it’ll be cooked for us.”
Robbie said that Hugh’s House is very important for families with other kids as they too can stay in the room.
“Hospital accommodation is only for mum and dad so if you’ve other children you’re stuck.
"In Hugh’s House you can have your whole family in the room. I have two other children and my wife so we all stay together and order pizza and watch movies. We’ll have Christmas here first and then we’ll have Christmas back in Offaly.”
Hugh’s House can sleep up to seven families and has a bathroom on every floor, a kitchen and dining room.
“You can make the rooms as homely as you like. They’re very warm and very comfortable. I’ve moved most of my things into the room because I knew I would be there for a long time.
“When the kids come up too we can all jump into the bed together, watch movies and eat pizza,” said Robbie.
Aer Lingus donated a garden to the charity fully equipped with swings, slides, toys, outdoor heaters and even fairy doors.
“The garden is amazing. The kids play out here for hours. It’s so nice for them to have somewhere to play to get away from it all.
"The nearest park to here is filled with syringes and drunks so we’re really appreciative that we have this garden for them to play in.”
Robbie also praised Tesco Ireland and FoodCloud for their involvement in the charity.
“Once a month Tesco send down a team of 50 volunteers who come with loads of food and clean, cook and bake for us. When you have a sick child and you spend 18 hours a day in hospital with them the last thing you want to do is come home and cook and clean. We can’t thank all our volunteers enough.”
The house was opened in May 2015 and now the charity is trying to raise money for a second house, Zayn’s house.
“Zayn was in the hospital with Hugh and his parents had to travel long distances to see him every day so he is the inspiration for the house.”
Robbie said the average family stays for between one to three months but some might only stay a few days.
“We’ve see so many families come through our doors. While many families go back home with healthy kids, unfortunately this year we’ve lost six children in the house.”
The charity is currently fundraising to set up a second house to help families with sick children.