No one expects to be in hospital over Christmas, but sadly this is the reality for many children, and two friends – Millie and Megan – aim to spread some festive cheer and help reduce the children’s stress levels. 

Millie, a Surrey-based child psychology student, knows just what it feels like to be a young person stuck in a hospital ward for the duration of the festivities. As a 15-year-old, she underwent a liver transplant at the Variety Children’s Hospital following a suicide attempt after a battle with severe depression and anxiety. Thankfully, she survived, however, her liver failed after her suicide attempt, leading to her needing a transplant. 

Due to ongoing health issues as a result of the transplant, Millie found herself back in the hospital during the Christmas period of the same year, far away from the family and friends she would normally lean on. This was particularly difficult, given the fragile state of her mental health at the time.

The Variety Children’s Hospital Rays of Sunshine ward, located within King’s College Hospital in South London, was able to step in and provide Millie’s family with private charitable accommodation nearby – a wonderful local flat, equipped with everything they could possibly need during their stay. This meant that a family member could always be on hand for Millie, whenever she needed them. With her loved ones by her side, her outlook improved and she discovered that it’s still possible to enjoy Christmas in hospital.

Millie has never forgotten what a difference the kind and sensitive care she received from staff during her Christmas stay at The Variety Children’s Hospital made, and how much this contributed to her recovery in the long term.

This year, Millie and her best friend, Megan Scott, decided they wanted to ‘give back’ and do something for children in hospital over the festive period, many of whom might not understand why they need to be there. Sometimes children worry that Santa won’t know where they are, and might not be able to visit and bring them presents. Receiving a gift while they’re in hospital is a way to remind them that they haven’t been forgotten at Christmas. A new toy or game is also often a welcome distraction for children undergoing treatment.

Millie approached Variety with their idea of launching a fundraising initiative exclusively to buy Christmas presents for children in The Variety Children’s Hospital. “We were really pleased that Variety understood immediately what we were wanting to do”, she says. “It was helpful that we got feedback from the Variety team straight away, and that all communication was really clear and straightforward”.

Having launched their fundraiser jointly, Millie and Megan first approached family and friends and then work colleagues. They were surprised at the positive response they received: a lot of people were keen to donate – whether they knew Millie’s story or not – even though 2021 has been a tough year for so many.

The two friends were astonished to receive more than double their initial target amount of £250, and they finished up with a grand total of £515. Then it was time to go shopping. “We arranged things so that children of all age groups would receive age-appropriate gifts they could take home,” commented Millie. “We also donated presents to the ward for everyone to use on an ongoing basis.” Millie and Megan were careful to purchase Covid-safe gifts only, ones encased in packaging that can be wiped down with sanitiser if need be.

Sadly, due to Covid restrictions, Millie and Megan won’t be able to give the presents to the children themselves on Christmas day, but they can’t wait to see the photos staff have promised to share with them.

Millie Woodham said: “We just wanted to spread some happiness and Christmas joy to children who are probably experiencing some of their darkest days. Hopefully, we achieved this by doing our fundraiser during the season of giving!”

Jackie Ambrose, Play Specialists Team Leader at King’s College Hospital, said: “Thank you so much to the charity for helping to bring smiles to all the children who are being cared for in the Variety Children’s Hospital this Christmas. The gifts will provide a welcome distraction for our young patients who are having to undergo procedures and help to lift everyone’s spirits.”

Ronnie Nathan, Chair of the Variety Children’s Hospital Liaison Committee, said: “On behalf of Variety, the Children’s Charity, I would Like to thank Millie and Megan for their amazing fundraising gesture, which has purchased presents for all the children who will be spending their Christmas in the Variety Children’s Hospital at Kings College Hospital in Denmark Hill. Millie’s life was saved by a liver transplant in the hospital several years ago when she was a teenager. As a thank you, she has raised sufficient funds to ensure that those children in the hospital have a special Christmas. Variety conceived of the Variety Children’s Hospital in 1983, and since that time it has become one of the world’s leading paediatric liver and kidney transplant units. Variety Is very proud of the achievements of the medical and nursing staff of the hospital, who are part of the Variety family.