18 September 2023

Wollongong's Children's Ward is a better, brighter place thanks to Convoy and the community

| Jen White
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Group of people cutting a cake in the upgraded Children's Ward

Illawarra Community Foundation chairman and WIN CEO Andrew Lancaster, Adam and Kayla Henley, the i98FM crew Marty, Bella and Christian, and ISLHD CEO Margot Mains at the opening of the upgraded Children’s Ward. Photos: Jen White.

It’s never fun being a sick child in hospital but Wollongong Hospital’s Children’s Ward is a brighter place to be, thanks to $4.3 million raised through the i98FM Illawarra Convoy over the past five years.

During that time, the ward has been upgraded in four stages. A special celebration was held on Monday (18 September) to mark the end of the extensive work and officially open the facility. The i98FM breakfast crew broadcast its show from the ward and families were invited to attend the event and cake-cutting.

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District chief executive Margot Mains said the funds had “absolutely transformed” the children’s ward. She paid tribute to the work of Convoy and its Illawarra Community Foundation and to the “amazing community” of the Illawarra who have supported the event since it started in 2005.

“Coming to a hospital as a child is not easy; coming to hospital as a family member or carer is not easy,” she said.

“But when you have a hospital that supports amazing clinical needs and services, delivered by our brilliant professionals and clinicians, supported by an environment that is comforting, that is reassuring, that is bright, that’s actually been better designed for what we actually need, it makes a huge difference.

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“And you are making a huge difference for the people that are vulnerable.

“The four-stage redevelopment of the children’s ward has allowed the hospital to go above and beyond for our community.

“It ensures the facilities we provide not only meet the clinical needs of our young patients, but also enhance the things that can make all the difference: convenience, accessibility, quality and comfort for both the children and their loved ones.”

The project included the refurbishment of all patient rooms, the relocation of the hospital school, a new family room and ward playroom, a new procedure room and clinical skills area, a new medical day unit and the creation of two close-observation rooms.

The final stage of the redevelopment was the paediatric assessment area and outpatient rooms, which will provide significant benefits to patients, families and staff.

father and daughter in front of a hospital ward wall painting

Long-time patient Kayla with her dad Adam Henley. Kayla will now be able to access some of her treatments in the ward, rather than travel to Sydney.

Head of paediatrics Dr Simone Trist said the outpatient rooms would enable the hospital to double its capacity to deliver multi-disciplinary clinics in the one location.

“That means a child who may need to see a few specialists will be able to see them in the one place, at the one time, reducing the need for multiple appointments and visits,” she said.

”In addition, our new assessment rooms will enable us to better support children with more complex care needs.

“A child with cancer or other serious conditions won’t need to travel as often, as the new unit will provide services that they ordinarily would need to go to Sydney to receive, including chemotherapy and specialised infusions.”

About 3500 children are admitted to the ward each year, but the new spaces will allow a further 3000 to be treated as outpatients.

One patient who knows the children’s ward all too well is 13-year-old Kayla Henley. Kayla was diagnosed with leukaemia in late 2018 and according to her dad Adam, the children’s ward became a “home away from home”.

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Unfortunately, Kayla relapsed last year and had to start the chemotherapy treatment again in Sydney. However, the latest hospital upgrade will mean Kayla can have some of her treatment in the ward.

Adam said being able to have the treatment so close to home made a big difference to all the family.

The i98FM Illawarra Convoy is the largest truck and motorbike convoy in the Southern Hemisphere. The event is one of the largest regional one-day fundraisers in the country, with funds raised providing direct support to individuals and families affected by potentially life-threatening medical conditions, charities that work with these people, and local hospitals.

It started in 2005 with the aim of raising $20,000 for kids and their families who were living with cancer; the Illawarra community donated $52,000.

In 2016, the Illawarra Community Foundation was formed to broaden the reach of Convoy and to decide on the distribution of funds to charities and families in need.

Since its inception, Convoy has raised more than $22 million. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, 19 November.

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