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Grand job, Gromit! Helping Bristol’s hospital heroes

The immensely popular sculpture trail that took over the city recently raised thousands for its local charity partner – and will help scores of sick children from across the South West. We met a few of those working hard to put Bristol’s donations to their best use

This year’s crop of larger-than-life Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw figures saw families scurrying around the city all summer in a bid to tick off every attraction on The Grand Appeal’s arts trail Gromit Unleashed 2. This year there were also contactless payment facilities in place for fans of the colourful creations to donate to the charity which organises the whole thing in aid of sick and injured children around the city. The response to the new donation tech was quite incredible, and now the trail’s over, the money will go towards 10 designated wards, as well as the hospital as a whole. Some will support ongoing projects such as the 3D cardiac printer – which allows exact replicas of an individual heart to be made – and also music, art and play therapy. We went behind the scenes at Bristol Children’s Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital to chat to some of those who work in the departments set to benefit.

TBM: Hello and thank you for everything you do to help the kids of Bristol! Tell us a little about your role…
Dan Magnus: I am a consultant in paediatric emergency medicine which means being in charge of the children’s emergency department and helping the whole team look after sick and injured children – from the first day of life through to their 16th birthday. I treat everything from minor problems like coughs and colds through to life-threatening illnesses like sepsis or major injuries caused by severe accidents.
Giles Haythornthwaite (lead image): I am a paediatric emergency medicine consultant and clinical lead of the children’s Major Trauma Centre. Not a lot of people know that Bristol Children’s Hospital is a dedicated major trauma centre. What that means is that anytime a baby, child or teenager suffers a traumatic injury anywhere in the South West, they are rushed to us by land or air ambulance for immediate and life-saving treatment. Because we have so many leading specialities at the hospital, we’re the best possible place for really severely injured children to be treated.
Lottie King: I am one of a team of six sisters on the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. Each day my colleagues and I provide outstanding care to critically ill children from across the South West. We respond to medical emergencies around the hospital and those arriving in the emergency department. A huge part of our job is also to provide advice and support to families at a very difficult time.
Michelle Seymour: I am lead nurse for children’s epilepsy surgery.
Anoo Jain: I am a consultant in St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. As a specialist referral centre, our hospital treats over 800 babies each year from all across Bristol, the South West and South Wales. Every day I work with a team of dedicated nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals to care for premature babies born as early as 23 weeks, to those requiring life-saving treatment and care when they are born at full-term.

Dan Magnus has loved his time in paediatrics and is working with The Grand Appeal on a dedicated area for children with special needs and a new resuscitation station for babies

Why did you want to work in your particular department?
I like the complexity of the speciality and the detective-style work of trying to pinpoint exactly where in the brain the seizures are coming from!
Giles: Diagnosis and treatment in an emergency setting can be really challenging but it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Children are great patients and I get to meet some remarkable families.
Dan: I completely fell in love with paediatrics when I started as a junior doctor and have loved every minute. When I decided to become a specialist in children’s emergency medicine it was because I wanted to be there to support children and families when they most need emergency help, but also to work with the inspiring and amazing doctors, nurses and others that work in paediatric emergency medicine.
Lottie: I really enjoy being part of a highly motivated and dedicated team with the knowledge and skills to deliver life-saving treatments. No two days are ever the same as we care for a wide range of patients with varying conditions and needs. We are always prepared for whatever may come through our doors.
Anoo: I’ve loved looking after children from the early stages of medical school. This developed into a desire to be a specialist in neonatal medicine in 1993 when I worked in an Australian neonatal unit.

No two days are ever the same for PICU’s Lottie King – who loves a stroll around the harbour with her chihuahuas in her spare time

What’s your favourite bit of the job?
Giles: Oh that’s a hard one. I would have to say leading the children’s trauma team in the resuscitation room. Based in our emergency department, it’s where we assess and stabilise our most ill or injured patients. We’ve been a dedicated major trauma centre for over four years now and in that time I have watched the team get more and more efficient and effective. It is deeply satisfying seeing everyone’s hard work come together to treat a severely injured child and ensure they get the best treatment in a timely way.
Michelle: I will never tire of hearing how epilepsy surgery has stopped or significantly reduced the amount of seizures in a patient; how it’s enabled children to learn new skills or attend school for a full week or apply for a driving licence. It can have such a life-changing impact on parents too. It’s amazing to hear that they can sleep through the night and not be up worrying that they’ll miss their child’s seizure.
Anoo: It’s wonderful to meet families who have been through our unit, listen and learn from their experiences. I enjoy being part of a great team doing a really worthy job.
Dan: Seeing children and their parents in the emergency department comes with a lot of responsibility and I am constantly aware that it is a privilege to be part of their lives at that moment. It is a job that is sometimes upsetting and occasionally tragic but more frequently it is full of hope, smiles, laughter and children who get better. The chance to do something important and good for children is what gets me out of bed in the morning; without doubt the part of the job I love most. Lottie: Seeing those that we have cared for walk back onto our unit once they have fully recovered is amazing. Those moments make it all worth it for me.

Michelle Seymour from neurosurgery with patient Harry

What mightn’t we know about your department?
Dan: Recently, over 24 hours, the entire department pulled together to row 365 miles to raise money for The Grand Appeal. Rowing through the night on machines in the main entrance of the hospital was a gruelling challenge, but one that I was incredibly proud to take part in alongside my colleagues. Everyone pitched in to get us to the finish line and we raised over £3,000.
Anoo: We get through a lot of cake!
Michelle: The epilepsy surgery nursing team consists of three part-time working mums. We all worked together 12 years ago at Frenchay Hospital on the neurosurgery, burns and trauma High Dependency Unit. It’s great to be working together again! We are all good friends and share the same commitment to the children and families we look after. We have also become experts at juggling work and home life…
Giles: Major trauma often involves a host of different teams – from neurosurgeons and emergency department staff to burns specialists and neuro rehabilitation staff – as different specialities are required for children with multiple injuries. One other thing is that family care and support is a huge part of our role. These families, sometimes hundreds of miles from home, have been thrown into an incredibly stressful and daunting situation, and we do everything we can to make sure they understand what is going on and that they feel emotionally supported in a truly tough time.

Colourful creations like this one could
be seen all over the city this summer

Why is the support of The Grand Appeal so important?
Michelle: Epilepsy surgery can be life-changing and as a designated centre it’s crucial we have access to the latest developments. The Grand Appeal has been instrumental; in 2015 it funded a pioneering advanced neurosurgery robot and brain lab diagnostic suite (one of the first in the UK specifically for children). This is a highly specialised piece of equipment that allows the surgeons to operate on patients with brain tumours and other complicated neurological conditions with incredible precision, and has already revolutionised epilepsy treatment here.
Dan: It’s vital in helping us to be one of the best children’s emergency departments in the world. In the last year alone The Grand Appeal has funded life-saving emergency equipment, better facilities for parents and families and support for our staff. Our partnership means we can improve the overall experience for our patients from the moment they enter our doors to the point that they leave. Creating a more child-friendly environment and funding parent beds and additional life-saving kit are just a few of the special things we simply wouldn’t be able to do without charitable support.
Giles: Major trauma is a very challenging area and care is being improved all the time. The Grand Appeal gives us the edge and the ability to give each and every child who comes through our doors the very best chance. Whether it is the intraoperative MRI scanning suite – one of only a handful in a Europe – their family accommodation house just a stone’s throw away or visits from the charity’s music therapists, these essential touches provided by The Grand Appeal that make the world of difference to our young patients and families.
Anoo: Cots for Tots, part of The Grand Appeal, has donated some of the most pioneering medical equipment to the unit and the transport team that helps us do our job. The biggest difference has been Cots for Tots House, the family accommodation run by the charity. Our unit has a huge catchment area, including much of the South West and Wales, which often means families have to travel far from home for their baby to be treated here. Cots for Tots House is just minutes from the unit and provides free accommodation 365 days a year for all family members who need to stay close to their sick baby. It’s had such a positive impact for so many since it opened six years ago.

Anoo Jain from NICU

Which Gromit Unleashed 2 sculpture was your favourite?
Dan: Apart from the fabulous Lego one (cracking build, Gromit!) dedicated to our department, my favourite has been Rocket Man who used to sit on a bench outside the hospital. I felt like he kept a watchful eye over it and used to keep me company when I would leave the hospital late at night or come in early.
Giles: Sulley for sure – he has blue fur with spots! And not just because he’s supporting Major Trauma…
Anoo: Prima Featherina – raising money exclusively for our unit, supported by Marriott Royal Hotel. It drew a huge crowd this summer as part of Bristol’s largest fairy gathering – the costumes even rivalled my pink tutu from our 2017 Wrong Trousers Day fundraiser!
Lottie: I should say Caractacus Paws who’s raised money for our unit. However I am obsessed with Gromit P. Sullivan – I love his hair! Michelle: Tricky to choose. Rocket Man, obviously! He’s the sculpture helping raise money for the neurosurgery department. Also Sulley because he’s fluffy (and my children’s favourite).

Contactless payment technology was installed alongside the Gromit, Wallace and Feathers McGraw sculptures this year

What developments are going on in the department at the moment?
Michelle: At the moment, we are really excited about the use of a deep brain stimulation for the treatment of certain types of epilepsy. This equipment places electrodes into the affected area of a patient’s brain, creating an electric field which overrides the pathway causing the issue.
Giles: Being a major trauma centre for such a large area means we get a lot of young patients referred to us from hospitals across the region when they need specialist treatment. That means we are regularly communicating with lots of other medical professionals and improving that communication is a real focus of ours. During the referral we can conference-call in several specialists to discuss the best path to take and listen to recordings of the discussion to improve and speed up our decision making in the future.
Dan: Our team is working closely with The Grand Appeal on projects including a new-look waiting room, a dedicated area for children with special needs, a new resuscitation station for babies and new parent beds for the department’s observation ward.
Anoo: We are always developing ways to have parents more involved in their babies’ care, and improving care with the best quality research. For example, Cots for Tots recently funded the use of vCreate in the unit – a secure video messaging service that our nurses can use to record and send video updates of their special-care babies to parents while they’re away from the unit, minimising separation anxiety and stress. It’s the little things like this that can make the biggest difference to families going through an incredibly tough time.

What improvement would you most like to see?
Michelle: Improved awareness of epilepsy surgery. There are children that could benefit but for lots of reasons don’t get referred to the service. We are always striving to educate and raise the profile to ensure children and families have the best options for treating epilepsy.
Dan: We want to be a world-leading children’s emergency department, providing the best emergency care. We are looking to push boundaries and become a leader in patient experience, safety, digital technology, research and education and training. The NHS is celebrating 70 years this year and we want to make sure emergency care is future-proofed for the children of Bristol in the next 70 years too.
Giles: Our main goal is always to improve outcomes for young patients and save the lives of the seriously injured. However, we’d also really like to see patient transfers to the hospital from others in the region become faster, and be able to provide more resources to the rehabilitation side of our patients’ journey.
Anoo: We want to be a shining star of excellence in all aspects of neonatal medicine in our families’ and peers’ view. Ultimately, the goal is always to create a better environment for families in and outside our unit.

If you weren’t working in this job, what might you be doing?
Dan: I’d be an actor, but possibly not a very good one… Or maybe working for a global health charity.
Giles: If I am honest I don’t know, I’ve been doing this for so long and I am more interested in healthcare now than ever! Although I imagine being a teacher would be immensely satisfying.
Michelle: I knew I wanted to work within the healthcare profession from an early age after spending time in hospital as a patient myself. Perhaps working on an air ambulance or playing netball for England!
Lottie: I love my job but have always wanted to be an airline pilot…

Surprise us with something about yourself…
Michelle: I can watch all sorts of gory brain operations but if I see a nail hanging off I’ll pass out… Oh and I can juggle – I mean with balls this time, not life!
Giles: I’m dyslexic. When I was eight years old I couldn’t read or write.
Dan: I speak Luo – the tribal language of western Kenya.
Anoo: I’m learning Tai Chi Chen style short form; I also love cooking – ‘Poulet Robert’ is a firm family favourite. It’ll take more than that to get my secret ingredient though!

Favourite thing about Bristol?
Giles: Independent thinkers. Projects like Gromit Unleashed have made me realise how much innovation and art there is in Bristol. The trail brought together high-tech companies, independent artists and famous brands to put their own twist on the classic Aardman sculptures. It’s given so much to the children’s hospital, all while creating a spectacle in the city that we should all be proud of. Bristol is the sort of place where an ‘out-there’ idea can become an incredible innovation!
Dan: Penfold’s Kitchen – my favourite coffee shop (and cinnamon bun provider) just opposite the hospital.
Anoo: It is such an open and welcoming city – we are lucky to have so many beautiful places on our doorstep.
Lottie: I live just outside Bristol, however on a sunny day there is nothing nicer than a stroll around the harbour with my chihuahuas.
Michelle: The accent! I’m still trying to master it!

Find out more about the charity’s work at grandappeal.org.uk; gromitunleashed.org.uk