A local woman who set up a children’s charity in memory of her late twins has revealed how the organisation is now providing help and support to hundreds of families across Northern Ireland.
Gaye Kerr’s daughter Helen, who suffered from a rare disorder of the immune system called HLH, passed away in 2005 at the age of three.
Helen’s twin brother Brian, who had the rare genetic disorder Fanconi anemia, passed away in 2012 at the age of 10.
Despite having gone through such a devastating ordeal, Gaye decided she wanted to use her personal tragedy to help other parents of children diagnosed with cancer-related conditions.
The Moira woman established Angel Wishes as a support group in early 2015, and in February last year registered the organisation as a charity.
Over the course of the past 14 months the charity has continued to grow, and now provides help and support to more than 200 families.
Angel Wishes, which aims to put smiles back on the faces of young oncology and haematology patients aged from birth to 16 years, is run by a committee of eight hard-working volunteers.
It provides children and young people who are undergoing treatment for a variety of life-threatening illnesses with VIP trips to cinema screenings, concerts and shows, and also provides them with gifts such as toys and clothes, and electronic tablets and Wi-Fi connectivity to enable them to keep in touch with school friends while in hospital.
The charity also supplies younger children with ‘Worry Monsters’ - cuddly toys that help them talk about and cope with their fears.
Another aspect of its work involves putting on special events for bereaved parents, offering them help and support as they come to terms with the death of their child.
Gaye, who is originally from Lisburn, is drawing on her own heartbreaking experiences to provide help and support for sick children and their families. She knows only too well the mental and emotional turmoil that comes with looking after a child who’s been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
“Whenever a parent phones me in total devastation that their child has been diagnosed I know exactly how they feel,” she explained.
“I know exactly how they feel when they’re taking their child to hospital and that fear they feel. I know exactly how they feel when they’re told they are in remission - they get this huge lift. And on occasions when someone is told their child has relapsed, I’ve been there. If they’re told they are no longer responding to treatment, I’ve been there too. Every part of the journey I have walked it and I am able to talk to parents with total understanding and empathy.”
The 54-year-old full-time carer, who started Angel Wishes after offering people help and advice via social media, says the charity has received “amazing” public support from all sections of the community.
“People from all backgrounds have supported us,” she said. “Whether it’s the band (Noel Clarke Memorial Flute Band) or the Hibernians, religion doesn’t come into it when you’re helping children with cancer. Everyone just wants to help the children.
“It’s amazing to see the difference a simple present makes, or a trip to the cinema. These small things can make such a big difference to a child and their family.”
She added: “If a child is no longer responding to treatment we do our best to get that family as many memories as we can so that they have them to cherish forever.”
While she’ll never get over the deaths of her children, Gaye feels her work with Angel Wishes helps keep the memory of her twins alive.
“As long as I am doing Angel Wishes Helen and Brian will never die,” she said.
Gaye, whose other son Adam (17) also helps out with the charity’s work, stressed that all those involved in running the organisation are volunteers and that 100 per cent of all money raised goes directly to providing treats and trips for the children.
Anyone who would like to make a donation to the charity can do so online at www.justgiving.com/angel-wishes or by clicking here.
For more information log on to www.facebook.com/AngelWishesni.co.uk