It is a small gesture that has meant the world - quite literally. Hundreds of people have been sending postcards from far-flung places to a little girl living in hospital. Chris Burn reports.
Her hospital bed has been almost the only world she has ever known - but little Jessie Stocks is now being taken on a virtual trip around the globe from her room thanks to the kindness of hundreds of strangers.
For more than a year, the family of Jessie have looked wistfully out of the window of her room in the cancer ward at Sheffield Children’s Hospital across the road to Weston Park, watching other families and friends meet, play, laugh and go about their lives seemingly without a care.
Jessie is in an isolation cubicle and visitors have to carefully wash their hands, don a medical apron and pass through two doors, ensuring one is closed before the other is opened and backing into the room backwards to avoid touching it, before they can enter it to reduce the risk of spreading infections.
But the outside world that the two-year-old has been cut off from during her 17-month stay in hospital has been brought inside her room in an amazing way after hundreds of people from across the globe responded to an appeal to send Jessie postcards.
Now the once-plain walls facing her bed are covered with an astonishing array of postcards and a map of the world is quickly being covered in flag pins signifying each location Jessie has been sent a card from.
She has also been sent teddy bears, sweets and chocolates by wellwishers young and old. Some have sent handmade cards decorated with messages such as ‘Howdy from Texas’.
Jessie’s parents Sam and Mel, and her sister Macy, have all been busy helping decorate Jessie’s room - with hundreds more postcards arriving each day at the hospital.
Mum Mel says: “It is amazing to think how many people from across the world have just given that two minutes or ten minutes of time to write to us and think of my girls.”
By Friday last week, more than 400 postcards per day were arriving at the hospital for Jessie and her family. Mel originally purchased 200 flag pins and says she didn’t think she would need that many but has had to subsequently go out and buy 2,000.
The family, from the village of Dodworth near Barnsley, have had to face many challenges during Jessie’s short life so far, but have been given fresh hope and purpose by the amazing response to the online appeal that was made a couple of weeks ago.
Jessie was diagnosed with leukaemia last year and has spent most of her life in hospital ever since.
The toddler’s cancer was treated successfully but following a bone marrow transplant she suffered complications. She also suffered severe side effects from chemotherapy and has a rare genetic condition that made her leukaemia difficult to treat and required a platelet and blood transfusion.
Jessie has also suffered severe side effects from intense chemotherapy treatment and a rare genetic abnormality in children which made her leukaemia difficult to treat. It means the family do not know when Jessie will be able to come home.
Mel, aged 38 and originally from Liverpool, says: “Jessie wasn’t very well from being a couple of weeks old, it was one thing after another.
“In total, she has been in hospital for 17 months. In 18 months, we have had just under five weeks at home. She will be three in September.”
She says while it is nice having a view out of the hospital room over the local park, it also brings about mixed emotions as the family look at other people enjoying precious time together in the outdoors.
“It is lovely but at the same time everybody is sat having barbecues and parties and kicking a ball about so it kind of also makes you a bit jealous watching from the inside. It is better than having no window at all.”
The appeal went viral and was seen by more than 680,000 people on the Yorkshire Post’s Facebook page alone. Readers touched by the appeal promised to send her postcards from as far afield as Japan, Australia and Dubai. The campaign has even gone national, getting coverage from the Daily Telegraph and the BBC among other media outlets.
Mum Mel says the family have been astonished at the response they have had as the cards continue to pour in. She says it has been particularly special for Jessie’s older sister, seven-year-old Macy, with many of the cards also addressed to her as well.
“I was trying to think of something I could do with both of them, just as much to include Macy. We do a lot of craft stuff every day but Macy is at school. So this was something she could be part of and learn from.
“I bought 200 flag pins but wasn’t expecting more than 200 postcards. Now we are looking in the thousands. It is lovely so many people have done this. People have been writing to Jessie and Macy and I read them to both of them.”
Mel says that as she spends the vast majority of her time in hospital at Jessie’s side, it has taken away from the time she used to be able to spend with Macy at home. She says the postcard appeal has given a fresh impetus to Macy’s regular hospital visits on weekday evenings and weekends.
“People see the Jessie side of it but people don’t see the effect on Macy of not having her mum at home each day. Seeing the girls’ faces together on the bed and them getting all excited when we look at the cards is amazing. Jessie loves animals so she particularly loves the postcards with them on.
“It is something we can all do together, it is so hard stuck in one room all the time. You run out of things to look forward to and do over the weekend. Now I have got so much to do I won’t have a chance to sit down!”
Cards have arrived from as far afield as the Falkland Islands, Bermuda, the Maldives, Australia and New Zealand and Mel says it is impossible for the family to pick a favourite.
She says so many cards have been sent from across the UK it is now impossible to get any more flag pins on the part of the world map showing the British Isles.
For now, the family remain in limbo as they wait for improvements in Jessie’s condition to allow her to come home. Doctors are currently unable to say when she will be able to leave hospital.
“We just take it one day at a time. We just hope the new pills and steroids start doing their job so we can get her off oxygen for more than a couple of hours at a time,” Mel says.
But their lives and time in hospital has been immeasurably brightened by the small but yet priceless gifts that keep arriving in their hundreds to Jessie’s isolation room each day.
Mum Mel says it is hard to express just how grateful the entire family is to all those who have sent cards and gifts. “I will never be able to thank people enough ever.”
Anyone wishing to send a postcard should send it to Jessie and Macy Stocks, c/o Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Ward M3, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TH.