A young cancer survivor has returned to a children’s ward armed with hundreds of toys for other young patients – to mark five years since finishing treatment there.
Rhea was just six years old when she was diagnosed with leukaemia, and spent long periods on Epsom Hospital’s Casey Ward, where – due to her illness – she was often in isolation.
Staff on the ward did their best to keep the youngster busy with special boxes filled with toys and activities – and kind-hearted Rhea now wants to make sure other children going through similar experiences have plenty to keep them entertained, too.
With the help of her mum, Carley, Rhea set up an online wishlist before launching an appeal on social media. It caught the attention of family and friends, as well as some strangers, who between them donated an incredible 270 gifts.
Because of the risk of infection, children who are having chemotherapy cannot use toys or activities in the hospital playroom – and instead, everything they use has to be new and unopened.
“I thought about the toys that I would like or that I have played with,” said Rhea, 13. “I’ve been here myself, so I know what it’s like.
“I really wasn’t expecting to get as many donations as this – I was aiming for about 100, and was really shocked. I’d like to say thank you to everyone who donated.”
Rhea and Carley, from Carshalton, had to keep topping the wishlist up as more and more people added items to their cart – including one person, known only as “Albert”, who donated several boxes.
After taking over most of the family’s living room for several days, Rhea and Carley loaded up the goodies and wheeled the huge trolley-full onto the ward – as well as catching up with some of the staff they have got to know over the years.
Carley said: “It was a difficult period after Rhea was diagnosed, and we spent a lot of time on the ward. We got to know everyone quite well – in fact, we probably spent more time with a lot of them than we did our own family! Everyone was really nice and did their best to keep Rhea entertained and happy.
“Because she was here so often, Rhea always used to say Room 5 was her bedroom, and the last time she was here she even noticed how her ‘bedroom’ had been decorated!
“She decided she wanted to collect these toys to mark five years since finishing treatment, and I’m very proud of her.”
It’s not the first time Rhea has done something like this, either, as back in 2020 – shortly before the pandemic – the Year 8 Overton Grange pupil donated about 70 items to the ward.
That donation ensured young patients had toys to play with for the best part of the year, and this time Rhea’s efforts will mean even more children should benefit.
Lucy Lloyd-James, Lead Nurse for Epsom and St Helier’s Paediatric Oncology Shared Care Unit, said: “I’ve known Rhea for years, ever since she was diagnosed, and it’s brilliant to see her doing so well now. It’s why we do the jobs we do.
“Some children who are at greater risk of infection are unable to use the toys in our play rooms. They need to play with new toys, and we need to change those toys often so they don’t get bored.
“I honestly can’t thank Rhea enough. The effort she has put in is phenomenal, and she has really thought about what other children would like to see and what they will benefit from. Thanks to Rhea, we will hopefully be able to make their experiences just a bit more positive.”
Epsom and St Helier’s Charity has an Amazon wishlist for children being cared for at Epsom Hospital and Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children. You can donate to the Epsom fund here and to the Queen Mary’s fund here.