Told by Clara's mum, Ellie

Clara was nine months old when we found a lump in her side. After lots of tests we found out it was cancer – and Clara had a rare genetic condition that not only caused the cancer, but it was already causing her kidneys to fail. She needed urgent, expert treatment which could only be given in Leeds Children’s Hospital (we live in Grimsby). It’s pretty much become our second home from then.

The cancer treatment needed months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions. At the same time Clara had to start having dialysis. She needed a kidney transplant, but she had to be two years cancer-free before they could operate. So, what with recovering from the cancer treatment and the dialysis three times a week, we ended up living in the hospital for over a year.

We spent Christmas Day 2018 on the ward. Looking back now, it was actually Clara’s best Christmas. The staff had made the place look amazing and Clara loved all the colours and the lights, all the people coming round to make a fuss of her.

She had met Santa in the weeks before Christmas and on the day, the nurses made sure she woke to find presents from him on her bed (although she was still a bit young to know, it meant a lot to me).

Clara came home in 2019 but we were still in three times a week that whole year. Christmas 2019 we managed to be at home for Christmas Day and Boxing Day and she had Christmas with her family (she has two siblings). But the following year she was really poorly again and we spent our second Christmas on the ward and this time under lockdown. It was a completely different experience. Clara had caught COVID 19 – she was on a ventilator and was incredibly ill – she nearly died. On Christmas Day she was still really unwell. She couldn’t play, she could barely walk. But the staff went out of their way to include her and to give her the best possible experience.

Earlier this year Clara got to two years clear – and she’s had her kidney transplant. It was touch and go at first – her body started to reject it and she needed intensive treatment but she’s doing much better now and we’re all looking forward to a healthier, happier Clara.
Clara is just four now and she’s spent more than half her life in Leeds Children’s Hospital. But she looks forward to coming here, every single time; and that’s because of their incredible play team. I’ll say, “Shall we go for a sleepover today?”, she laughs and asks me “Can I play with Olivia?”.

Olivia is the play specialist on the ward Clara goes to. Every time we go in, Olivia has a new book to read or a new game to play. There’s artwork and dressing up – and when it all gets a bit much there’s an iPad to watch cartoons on for a bit. Olivia makes Clara’s time in hospital positive, fun and enjoyable.

Clara has met quite a few of the hospital’s play team in her little life and they’ve all been wonderful. To be honest, they’ve been as important as the nurses and doctors to Clara making it this far. They’ve kept her calm when she was having dialysis, distracted her all the (many) times a needle had to go into Clara’s arm for another blood test. When Clara was isolated on the ward, they were her playmates, they kept her interested and stimulated. And they also made it possible for me to leave Clara for 10 minutes – even just to make some lunch – knowing she was in safe hands. They just make everything easier.

Christmas is when you can really see just how far the play team go for children like Clara. In 2018 there was something going on the whole month. It was a wonderful Christmas, you could see the enjoyment in all the children’s faces on the ward. Last year was very different, as it had to be, but they still made extraordinary efforts to give as much Christmas fun to the kids. Santa even popped up outside Clara’s window!

Clara’s first Christmas in the hospital was her best Christmas ever. Now, we just don’t know if Clara and I will be in the hospital again. But if we are, that will be OK; because I know that Olivia and the rest of their team will make sure Clara has a wonderful Christmas, they’ll keep the magic alive for her.

And if you can help; well, I can tell you from my own experience you’ll be doing something wonderful.

Thank you, and Happy Christmas from me and Clara