‘What led me here.’ by Sam Haley – Head of Operations in the North
My eldest son, Joe, who is now 30 years old, was nine months old when he started to have severe seizures. We had to take him to the hospital but due to his age it took a long time for him to get diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, and he then became very ill.
For me and my husband, David, this was our first taste of being in hospital with our child, but it would be the first of many days and nights spent in there. Between 1991 and 1994 we spent months in and out of hospital. Back then, there were no beds for parents at either Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary or General. Occasionally we’d get a bed in a room, if there was a spare one, but more often than not we would sleep in a chair. I remember curling up in the cot next to Joe as I was desperate not to leave him. There wasn’t a place to stay like Crawford House.
You never get accustomed to hospital life when your child is seriously ill. Just because we’d experienced it with Joe didn’t mean we were prepared for when our next son, Conor, was rushed to hospital. He had an accident and suffered 34% burns. We were back in the RVI for long periods of time, again sleeping wherever we could. Often on the floor or in a chair by the bed. Due to his burns, he needed a lot of care, with dressings being changed frequently and ointments being applied.
David and I started to think about what we could to do help. There wasn’t really anything we could do to help our child and knew other families must feel the same. So, how could we help them? We started fundraising. Our friends and family were very supportive and we hosted big events from music and comedy nights to pub quizzes. This meant we could buy things for the hospital’s designated parents’ room like a washer, dryer and microwave. Things that would make a short or long stay in hospital just that bit easier.
David was on the board of the Children’s Foundation when there was a big drive to fund the Great North Children’s Hospital at the RVI. A friend of ours worked at a charity called The Sick Children’s Trust which ran ‘Homes from Home’ giving families with a seriously ill child a place to stay. One of which was Crawford House, located at the RVI. We heard all about it and organised a visit. When we stepped through the door both of us felt its warmth and comfort. We knew just how much this ‘Home from Home’ would’ve helped make hospital life for us that bit easier.
It was that door that led to many more doors opening. Over the last 15 years we have run hundreds of miles taking part in the Great North Run, dressed many a table for charity dinners and tested mics ahead of comedy and music nights. Our drive to help families like ours soon became a whole family affair. From a young age, all three of our boys have been involved in fundraising for The Sick Children’s Trust. Being a Haley is a team sport! They are very passionate about the charity and have too run half marathons (and more!) plus performed at music events. Doing their part for the charity is as important to them as it is to us.
After a long career in education I was looking for a completely different path to take. Plans are all well and good but I would encourage anyone to be open to opportunities, and any that they haven’t previously thought of. Just because you’re doing a job at 25, don’t think you have to do that for your whole career. You can take those skills and move to other sectors. For me, that new career path became visible over a cup of tea and piece of cake at an event at The Sick Children’s Trust’s Scott House, located at Freeman Hospital. There was a vacancy. I thought, why not throw my hat into the ring? It was perfect timing and in 2018 I became Head of Operations in the North.
My role involves ensuring our ‘Homes from Home’ are a safe and welcoming place to return to after a long day on the wards. I work closely with the hospital teams where our five Northern ‘Homes from Home’ are based to ensure a good working relationship so together we can be there for families, so that they can be together with their sick child. I also manage our incredible house teams who are all amazing and very special. They work incredibly hard to make sure our families feel comfortable in a time of huge uncertainty. We are like a family and work together for a common cause across the organisation. I have never worked anywhere where the staff morale is so good and there is such a lovely culture.
While I have been busy heading up the Northern operations for the charity, David co-founded The Toon Council in October 2019 to support our Newcastle ‘Homes from Home’ Crawford and Scott Houses. As part of the council we had a year of fundraising events planned for 2020 but lockdown swiftly brought many of them to an end. However, our creatives and business figureheads got together and still managed to take on marathons and hold virtual events to support the families staying at our ‘Homes from Home’. It is something that every member has been passionately behind.
As Crawford House celebrates 25 years of supporting families with children at the RVI, I look at everything we have done, as a charity, as a family and as an individual and am so humbled to see all those we have helped. It is such a rewarding place to work and I am so excited to see what the years to come have in store.
Sam Haley, Head of Operations in the North
Every year we help families by giving them somewhere to stay near their seriously ill child’s hospital bedside. Sign up to receive our email newsletters to stay up to date with how your support is helping to keep families together.