A dedicated and award-winning Community Staff Nurse, Donna couldn’t think about doing anything else other than nursing. But tragic circumstances looked like making her homeless, taking her away from her vocation.
Donna’s childhood was cut short when she left her home aged just nine years old.
“I ran away from home to escape from an abusive family member,” she recalls “I lived on the streets of London up to the age of 18, in and out of care institutions.”
Aged 18 Donna was given 2 weeks rent and a council bedsit and “was left to get on with it.” She had various roles and worked for her local council and the Post Office over the next few years.
“I’d kept in touch with my Dad and when I was 22, he fell and broke his hip,” remembers Donna “He lived on his own so I went to stay with him in Wales to look after him.”
Donna enjoyed the responsibility of caring for her Dad and decided to stay in Wales after securing a job in a local care home. Gaining more care experience enabled Donna to get a Nurse Auxiliary post, or Healthcare Assistant as it’s known today.
“I loved my job as an Auxiliary, it was brilliant,” says Donna “But there was one experience that inspired me to do my training to become a nurse.”
Donna was assisting a staff nurse to take a blood sample from an elderly blind patient. The nurse failed to engage with the patient who had no idea what was going on.
“The lady was really scared. Later I challenged the nurse and said ‘if that was your own mother would you have treated her like that?’ The nurse got aggressive and said ‘if you can do it better, do it yourself.’ So I thought, I will!”
As a child Donna’s education had suffered due to homelessness so she went to college to improve her reading and writing skills and eventually completed her access course which meant she could apply for her nursing degree.
“I qualified as a nurse in 2006,” remembers Donna “and it was such a huge moment for me and my family, absolutely massive. Nobody else in my family had achieved a degree, I’d worked so hard to be there, everyone was so proud.”
Donna gained nursing experience in renal and cardiac care and then moved into the Community Nursing post where she current works. She contacted The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), the charity that works to improve the nursing care of people in their own homes and asked to speak at their seminar in London about homelessness.
“It was such an emotional moment in my life,” recalls Donna “the seminar was a few doors down from the doorway I regularly slept in all those years ago on the streets. Here I was returning to that spot as a nurse.”
The QNI Award for Outstanding Service, given to community nurses who provide exceptional care to their patients and demonstrate a continuing passion and enthusiasm for nursing was given to Donna and she now has the title of Queen’s Nurse.
“I’ve now set up my own homeless support group called Homeless Hope,” says Donna “We’ve got 200 volunteers who go onto the streets of Cardiff and connect with homeless people. 70% of the volunteers are nurses, I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved with this.” Homeless Hope is due back on the streets of Cardiff from September.
Donna was a single parent living with her nine year old son when she met Chris and fell in love. They decided to move in together and it appeared that Donna had everything she’d ever wanted, a career she loved, her wonderful son and now a loving partner.
However, only a few months after Donna moved in with Chris he was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer. Just a few weeks later, Chris died, leaving Donna and her son devasted. On top of all this, it meant that Donna’s home was no longer hers.
“As we didn’t own Chris’s house this meant me and my son couldn’t continue living there,” explains Donna “The very real prospect was that we would be left homeless.”
Donna examined all their options for finding somewhere to live but struggled to get anywhere with the council, despite ringing them every day. She remembered Cavell, having previously raised funds for the charity, so applied for help. The Support Services team was able to pay for a deposit and a month’s rent on a private rental property found by Donna and she and her son were able to move in.
“We narrowly missed being homeless,” says Donna “and I believe without Cavell’s help we would have been. I was living on the streets aged nine so surely this couldn’t happen to my son too at the same age. We were desperate.”
Despite settling into her new home, unfortunately Donna’s awful year continues. Her Mum passed away and her Dad’s health is deteriorating.
“This is turning into the worst year I’ve ever had, but our home means so much to us. It’s just up the road from my Dad’s house so we can spend lots of time with him and it’s a place where we feel safe and secure and can deal with our emotions and grief. I can’t put into words what that place means to us and it was Cavell that made it happen.”
Donna had compassionate leave after her Mum died and she’d only just returned to nursing again when her Dad became ill. She’s now considering whether she can carry on with her career whilst looking after him.
“It would break my heart to stop nursing,” says Donna “it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and I can’t imagine not doing it. Nursing is who I am. But it’s been such a traumatic year.”
Donna knows the importance of receiving support at the right time,
“I know colleagues who are doing long shifts and then extra agency hours on top just to be able to pay bills and buy food. And others are using foodbanks. Anything can happen in life as I’ve seen this year, you don’t know what’s around the corner. So to know that Cavell is there is incredible, I don’t know where we’d be right now if it wasn’t for them.
“I would say to anyone thinking of donating to or fundraising for Cavell, please do it. This help has had such a huge impact on mine and my son’s lives.”