NHS Heroes nominees – Zara Toussaint and Leeanne Clay
“We met Leeanne and Zara the day that we lost my 31-year-old sister to cancer. They helped us to explain to her children what was going to happen to their mummy and since have provided us as a family an incredible amount of support with the children and their grieving process. We cannot thank them enough and no amount of thank yous or rewards would amount to how incredible these ladies are.”
Zara Toussaint and Leeanne Clay are both registered nurses who, while working in a busy intensive care department, realised something needed to change to allow children to be part of the end of their loved ones lives.
In January 2020 they set up Burslem-based Windmills, which provides bereavement support to anyone aged up to 25 in Staffordshire.
Zara and Leeanne both still work full-time as registered nurses and also volunteer for up to 40 hours each week to support an ever growing number of children and young people. Their current active caseload is around 60 children but they have already had nearly 170 referrals this year.
They step in to provide support if a family member has received a terminal diagnosis or in cases of unexpected death through situations such as road accidents, murder or suicide.
As they are both nurses Zara and Leanne can go to the hospital and can talk through anything the children need to know. In some cases it is Zara and Leanne who break the news that their loved one will die or that their loved one has passed away.
They do memory making around the bedside, accompany children to the funeral director to see their loved one if they wish, go to funerals and provide ongoing support in the weeks and months that follow. They make themselves available 24/7.
Zara and Leeanne even left their NHS roles at the Royal Stoke University Hospital to work for a private nursing agency so that their work hours would be more flexible around the needs of the young people they help.
Zara, aged 40 and from Trent Vale, and Leeanne, aged 47 and from Trentham, have been nominated as NHS Heroes in the Your Heroes Awards by a string of families they have supported.
Emma Hine said: “Leeanne and Zara are two ladies you wish you never had to meet but if you are ever faced with the loss of a loved one where children are involved, they are two ladies you are so glad you met.
“They have been supporting my grandchildren following the death of my daughter (their mummy) earlier this year and it may sound corny, but we could not have got through the last couple of months without them.”
Zara said: “I lost my own dad when I was four-years-old and I have no memories of him. I understand how important it is for children to be involved and to have a positive experience of end of life.
“Leeanne and I were on a study day and talking about having the confidence to allow children to come into intensive care. We left that study day and said wouldn’t it be great to do something with that idea and Windmills was born.”