Kathy Hull is the founder of the George Mark Children’s House, an incredible home dedicated to terminally ill children and their families. We were fortunate enough to visit the House on our recent trip to California, thanks to the kindness and generosity of the staff.
Kathy is currently a paediatric psychologist practising in Oakland, California. She practiced for a number of years in paediatric oncology wards and intensive care units, continuously exposed to the pain and suffering of children and their families. As she states in her TED talk, during this time, she became increasingly aware of the negative environment in which these patients were being treated. For the most unfortunate paediatric cases, this harsh environment would be the last place on earth these children would see before their lives came to an end. The fluorescent lighting, the unnatural brightness, the constant sound of alarm bells, elevator and monitor beeps…these shouldn’t have to be the last sounds and sights a child sees at the end of his/her life. Fortunately for many terminal children, Kathy saw the discrepancy between caring to cure, and the care that is needed at the end of these children’s short lives.
In 2004, the George Mark Children’s House was established: a beautiful, cozy and homely residence spread over five acres for terminally ill children and their families…one that resonates feelings of homeliness, whilst still offering the comfort and support from medical professionals if needed. Surprisingly, the G.M. Children’s House was the first pediatric palliative care centre founded in the USA (interestingly, there are several such care homes of them in Canada, Germany and the UK).
The House encompasses 8 patient rooms with family suites. No scary machines or tubes hang down from the walls near the bed frames, no harsh fluorescent lighting, no white walls and VCT flooring, and not one ‘bleep’ to be heard within the entire home. On the contrary, the patient rooms are painted in the brightest of colours, each with its individual theme: Sea Breeze, Jungle Safari and more. They all feature enormous French-style windows that look out onto the home’s peaceful and charming garden. A daybed is also found in each room, for parents, friends or for any sleepovers.
As we visited different parts of the estate, it was clear that every single feature has been carefully thought through. The stone path in the garden is smooth and gently meandering, giving the impression of strolling in a park, and is ideal for wheelchairs. The hedges are cut to about a metre from the ground, so that wheelchair bound children are able to see beyond the plants. When it comes to eating, a personal chef, Ruth, is at every family’s disposal. She’ll cook whatever the patient and their family and friends desire. Another personal favourite was the Sensory Room, dedicated to arouse a child’s senses through special light effects, gentle sounds, tactile entertainment and more. As explained by the staff, these sensory experiences provide calmness and relaxation for the children. Yet perhaps the most remarkable feature of the George Mark Children’s House is that everything is free of charge.
It doesn’t end there…George Mark Children’s House also organise a number of events designed for the children, for extra fun, joy and excitement: from movie nights, to gardening ventures, to larger scale events for families and friends to attend, such as Pumpkin Day during Fall. The creativity, compassion and selfnessness of the staff is nothing short of inspiring.
Kathy Hull has created an environment that every terminal child should have the opportunity to experience at the end of their short lives. A fun, young-spirited, colourful, bright, peaceful place where children and their families can enjoy moments of relaxation, of privacy and of joy. To have been able to visit this incredible home and to see the compassion and thought that went into creating such a special place for terminally ill children, has truly been an honour for Crutch4Sarcoma. We can only dream to participate in the creation of many more children’s homes across the globe in the future.
A VERY WARM THANK YOU TO KEN SOMMER FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SHOW US AROUND AND MAKING US FEEL SO WELCOME.