HoH Campaign: The hospice prolonged Tony’s life, it was like his home-from-home’

VAL and Dave Cousins believe their young grandson s life was prolonged by the wonderful care he received at the Milton hospice. Fourteen-year-old Tony Chapman loved going there, they say. He had his own room and, as he battled with acute leukaemia, his fa

VAL and Dave Cousins believe their young grandson's life was prolonged by the wonderful care he received at the Milton hospice.

Fourteen-year-old Tony Chapman loved going there, they say. He had his own room and, as he battled with acute leukaemia, his family could be by his side.

Tony was often confined to a wheelchair, racked with pain and frustrated that he couldn't have a normal teenage life, but he would still find time for a joke with the staff and join other children for special days out.

Trips to Silverstone Racetrack and Wimpole Hall Farm made those last few years special for Tony and provided the memories that his family cherish.

When he finally lost his fight for life the staff were there to help his family pick up the pieces and provide counselling in their home to help them come to terms with their loss.

Four years on, Val and Dave, Tony's grandparents still drop into the hospice two or three times a year and staff call on their help for fund-raising efforts.

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Over the years, the couple from Priors Close, Witchford have raised £10,000 for vital equipment and believe if the hospice closes it will be a devastating loss.

"The hospice prolonged Tony's life," said Val. "If he had gone into a hospital I don't think he would have lived as long as he did. It was like having an extended family.

"When he couldn't walk or hold things properly there were other children like him and he didn't stand out. Tony loved the place so much. There were no uniforms for the staff and it was like a home-from-home.

"He could go on the computers or into the music room. He could go swimming with his older sisters."

Dave added: "It was a terrific place for the whole family. They could all go and stay for the weekend and be together. For Tony's mum it meant she could have a break from his care and just enjoy the time spent with her children."

Tony, who lived with his family in Hertfordshire, became ill when he was just four years old.

He went from being a lively youngster to finding everything an effort, being lifeless and bruising easily.

"Tony knew he was going to die even when he was a little boy," said Val. "The family never kept anything from them. Rightly or wrongly they would allow him to sit in on the meetings with the doctors.

"He kept saying to his mum he didn't want to die. As the weeks go on you keep hoping that he will get better. He still tried to go to school but he was in and out of hospital."

When he was just six, his older sister, Nicola, then 10, was confirmed as a 99 per cent bone marrow match for her brother.

She went through the operation and was delighted that she might be able to give Tony the chance for a normal life.

For a while his illness went into remission and he seemed to be picking up.

"We thought he had cracked it," said Dave. "But then his mum phoned me in tears to say it was back."

For Tony's mum his illness meant days away from her husband and two daughters as she spent her time at her young son's bedside.

His care was a 24-hour responsibility and the hospice gave them the chance to just focus on being a family while others took the workload for just two or three weekends a year.

Dave said: "They had the support groups and the staff helped in anyway they could. They were able to talk to other parents going through similar things.

"We wouldn't have known about the hospice if it wasn't for Tony. People don't realise what goes on there and yet they only get 10 per cent of their money from the government. That's ludicrous. It is a poor effort for a place which is doing such brilliant work."

Val said: "Tony wanted to die at the hospice. Finally he couldn't do anything for himself and that last week he wasn't himself. The spark had gone. We knew it wouldn't be much longer and we hoped for his sake it would be quick. I think he had come to the end and he was in so much pain.

"Even after Tony died the staff told us we didn't have to go home. They stayed with his mum while the undertaker came and took her to register his death. They did everything for her. We stayed there most of that day."

Val and Dave have pictures of their young grandson on the walls of their home.

"When I'm dusting those pictures I have a chat with him and think about him," said Dave.

Each year the couple stage a charity day at Stretham Bowls Club to raise funds for the charity.

Twenty-eight teams from all over the area compete. Val and her friends provide the lunches and they organise a charity auction and raffle. Each year the event raises around £1,200.

This year it will take place again on Sunday, August 13, between 11am and 7pm and anyone wishing to help with a donation is invited to send it to Milton Children's Hospice, 42 The High Street, Milton, Cambridge CB4 6DF.