It’s a place built for children’s laughter, where magic happens and memories are made. There is beauty in every corner, with tranquil spots for contemplation and beautiful gardens for roaming among giant frogs and snails, tree climbing or camp-fire dining.
There’s a top chef ready to cook up your dream menu of pizza and ice-cream, a specially trained dog who loves a pat, and play therapists to provide hours of fun-filled distraction and stimulation.
But it’s a place parents hope never to have to enter. Such is the paradox of Hummingbird House, Queensland’s only children’s hospice, which welcomed its first families in July.
Hummingbird House is a ‘home away from home’ for children with life-limiting illness and their families to gain respite, support and end-of-life care, says its founder Paul Quilliam, Special Excellence award winner in the QUT 2016 Outstanding Alumni Awards, who with his wife, Gabrielle, has spent the past five and a half years bringing this sanctuary to fruition.
“Whether it’s for five hours, five days, five weeks or five years we want to fill the child’s time with us with joy and fun while providing maximum support to their families.”
When Mr Quilliam graduated from QUT’s Executive MBA in 2010, he and Gabrielle had a deep understanding of the needs of parents with children affected by a life limiting condition, having fostered children with complex medical needs.
Drawing upon the expertise of his EMBA cohort and QUT Business School, Mr Quilliam also built connections across every faculty – architecture, law, nursing, education and creative industries.
He gained bi-partisan political support and grants of $5.5 million each from the Federal and State governments; gained sponsorship from big names including Coles, Westfield, Dreamworld , Bunnings and Zupps; along with philanthropic donations from business and private donors by “relentlessly presenting an excruciatingly compelling business case” at every turn.
“We set out to build a world-class hospice and twinned with East Anglia Children’s Hospices in the UK whose patron is the Duchess of Cambridge. We’ve sought expertise from them at every level and it is generally agreed Hummingbird House has set a new benchmark,” he said.
“Licensed as a private hospital, we have 15 clinical staff including a paediatric palliative care specialist and trained nursing staff, music, art and play therapists and family support experts as well as an army of volunteers.
“Many families with children with life-limiting conditions care for their child 24/7. For them it is a luxury to get a good night’s sleep, go shopping or get their hair done.
“At Hummingbird House they can leave their child in the best possible care for a few hours while they do these things or just have some down time.
“The families we support can stay longer if needed in beautifully furnished, two and three-bedroom, self-contained units where they can be near their child, knowing they are receiving full care, but be able to go out to do some fun things with their other children.”
Mr Quilliam said Hummingbird House was constantly thinking of ways to make daily magic for children with short lives. He points to a grassy indoor garden – ‘we could do ‘glamping’ there’ and the garden paths ‘we’ll have remote-controlled vehicles for the children to race here’.
“This rock climbing wall has been built so a child in a wheelchair could abseil down it,” he said. “And we have a memory-making room with a huge green screen where families can take photos of themselves altogether with a backdrop of their choice – the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, Disneyland - wherever they want to go.”