Family room sanctuary amid stress

16:00, Feb 11 2014

Four years ago Caroline Loo and her family desperately needed a facility like Southland Hospital's new Ronald McDonald Family Room, which was officially opened yesterday.

After battling meningococcal septicaemia for more than two months, Mrs Loo's 18-year-old daughter Sara died.

Mrs Loo said her own family's tragedy made the decision to volunteer at the new facility in Invercargill simple.

"We lived in and out of hospitals for about 10 weeks. When we were in Dunedin we were really close to the hospital . . . but when we went to Auckland we stayed miles away," she said.

She recalled how hard it was to get a call in the middle of the night and feel as if she was scrambling to make it back to her daughter's side.

"'It was just awful to get those calls, try and get a taxi and travel 15 minutes down a road by car. It was very stressful."


The new family room, which is an extension of Southland Hospital, offers a solace away from the hospital ward.

Several volunteers, including Mrs Loo, work a rotating roster helping families with laundry, housekeeping and some food preparation.

" I never know who is here when I come in but by the end of my shift they have always come and found me. I walk away thinking I did a little bit today to make someone else's life a little bit better," she said.

As a volunteer Mrs Loo is able to empathise with parents staying in the facility.

"I understand how you can be torn in half between wanting to be with your sick child but desperately needing to be away for just two minutes."

The new facility provides a temporary home to parents and their other children, which Mrs Loo said was vital.

"I was in Auckland with my daughter and the rest of our family came up when they could. I felt really isolated. Having something like this really cuts down that isolation barrier."

Leaving half her family behind had "ripped her heart in half", she said, but for parents using the Southland family room the "burden had been lifted."

"This is just what they need - to know they can relax, but if need be they can run back through those doors in a second to their sick child."

Yesterday Mrs Loo's opinion of the facility was mirrored by Southland's health and community leaders as they celebrated the facility's official opening.

A Maori blessing opened the event before Mayor Tim Shadbolt cut the ribbon, declaring it open.

Ronald McDonald House South Island chief executive Emma Jones said the facility could be used by families with children in hospital.

"Any family with a child in the hospital can use the communal kitchen, dining and living spaces," she said.

"[But] families with the greatest need are able to stay in one of the four bedrooms, at completely no charge."

Sixteen families have stayed in the family rooms since the facility opened in December.