Graduation a major milestone for 11 adolescent patients

Families and staff of Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, came together via a virtual Patient Graduation Ceremony on Friday, December 3, to celebrate the transition of 11 long-term patients from paediatric to adult health care services.

Held biannually, the Graduation Ceremonies are an important part of the transition process for adolescent patients and their families as it’s an opportunity to bid their clinical team farewell after many years of care.

Most of the Graduates have been patients of the Hospital since birth and have built special relationships with not only the teams who cared for them, but also an extended network of staff and families that they’ve crossed along their treatment journey.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of our Patient Graduation Ceremonies, which were the first to be held by a paediatric hospital in Australia in April 2006. In that time, more than 300 patients have graduated from the Hospital.

Dr Sean Kennedy, Head of Renal Department, hosted the event with Captains Starlight and said Graduation is an important milestone for patients, families and staff alike.

“It’s a massive change for these adolescents and their families who’ve often had a lifetime relationship with the Hospital,” Dr Kennedy said.

“Over that time, they’ve worked with teams that are embedded in the Hospital and now they have to move on and build those same, trusting relationships with new teams and in different environments.

“We recognise this as a major milestone. This is an important opportunity for us to celebrate what’s happened but also acknowledge that the time is right to move on.

“It’s been particularly important in the last two years with COVID-19 because a lot of our patients and families haven’t seen everyone as frequently. It’s different having the Graduation Ceremony online, but it’s in some ways more important.”

The Ceremony proceedings were similar to a high school graduation, albeit virtually, with the patients receiving certificates, gifts and mortarboard hats. In addition to a staff farewell video, messages were also played from NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Kyle and Jackie O, Rove McManus, Guy Sebastian and many more.

The event ended with a photo montage of the patients’ journey from early childhood until now, before they threw their caps in celebration to mark the milestone.

Cooper Fenton, 17, has been a patient at the Hospital since birth and undergone 31 major surgeries, as well as numerous medical procedures to treat her chronic illness VACTERL.

In that time the Hospital has been like her second home and she’s become an active member of the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) program and Youth Council.

 As she embarks on the next stage of her treat journey, Cooper said she’ll always look back on her time at the Hospital with fondness. Whether it be how her clinicians have listened to her “as a person, not as a patient” no matter her age, her early memories with occupational therapist Leslie Wollin, or her advocacy work.

“Graduation is an amazing program. From my perspective, it’s a really great thing that I’m not leaving the Hospital without saying goodbye or properly thanking the health care professionals that I’ve been with my whole life,” Cooper said.

“Those I’ve been treated by aren’t just general practitioners, but they’re people who I trust with my body, my medical history and my life. I care about them so deeply and it’s important for me to say goodbye in a proper setting. These people deserve to be honoured, the amazing work they’ve done to help make me who I am.

“It’s also a celebration of a coming of age. It’s not like we’re being pushed into the world or jumping and learning how to fly. It’s a good way to make it less scary.”

Supporting the move to this next stage of treatment is Trapeze, a Network service that helps current and former patients (with a chronic condition) aged 14-25 make a seamless transition to adult health care.

19-year-old Rebecca Robinson has already made the leap after being a patient with both SCH and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, where she had two transplants performed at the same time a few years ago.

“It sounded very intimidating going into an adult’s hospital at first, but it’s been a nice transition and I’ve enjoyed it. Everyone has been so accommodating,” she said.

“For me, Graduation is an important milestone because from day dot the same team of doctors has been with me for the majority of the last 19 years. But it’s also an opportunity for my parents to say goodbye.”

We wish our graduates all the very best as they begin the next chapter of their lives.