Jessica's journey from heartbreak to joy

(Southern Health News, September 2019)

Jessica’s journey from heartbreak to joy – and everything in between

From a place of heartbreak, Jessica Duke has been able to bring support and comfort to other families at Flinders Medical Centre – and find a sense of peace herself.

As a SALHN Patient and Family Representative in Obstetric and Gynaecology Ward 4C and Postoperative Ward 4GS, Jessica works with families who have safely given birth, and those who have lost babies at birth.

Jessica has personally experienced the highs and lows of both, having lost her son Lincoln at birth 11 years ago, and then safely giving birth to her daughter, Audrey in 2013 and her son Eli, in 2014.

‘My own experience at FMC 11 years ago was not positive, and for many years afterwards I could not bring myself to even visit family or friends at the hospital – let alone visit as part of my role as State Coordinator with miscarriage, stillborn and newborn death support organisation Sands,’ Jessica recalls.

However, when she was forwarded an email calling for applications for the role of Patient and Family Representative at FMC, something ‘clicked’ and she decided to apply.

‘In my role at Sands I see and hear the tragic stories of pregnancy and infant loss, and while I find fulfilment in what I do, it is challenging. I missed seeing the happy side to pregnancy. I wanted to see the happy endings; not just deaths.’

‘When this email came into my mailbox I saw hope, I saw vulnerability, I saw a want for improvement. I saw a hospital that acknowledged it had flaws, but one that cared about its patients. They wanted to know what their patients saw, felt and experienced while in their care – in order to fix their flaws. I wanted to be a part of that; I wanted to be part of a positive change.’

Jessica was successful in her application, and began her new role at FMC in October, 2018. Today, she holds multiple roles within SALHN, including her primary role as the Patient and Family Representative on Wards 4C and 4GS; and Consumer Representative on both the

SALHN Partnering with Consumers Advisory Group (PWCAG) and the Consumer Experience Performance Group. Jessica is also on the Maternal, Neonatal and Gynaecological Community of Practice executive leadership committee (MNGCOP), which is under the direction of SA Health.

‘All of these roles are about ensuring that consumers get a voice – and that their voice is heard, considered and included,’ Jessica said.

‘For example, in my ward rounds on 4C and 4GS I visit patients and chat with them about their care.

We talk about how they have felt since being admitted; whether they and their support people have felt listened to, been understood, included in their care plan; and felt respected, supported and informed.’

‘If I am advised of anything that I feel needs immediate attention I bring it up with either the shift coordinator or Nurse Unit Manager or Midwife Unit Manager for immediate action. On the committees, I listen to the executives and professionals and ensure that the consumer point of view is thought about. I am a physical reminder of why they are doing what they are doing.’

Jessica said she felt honoured to do the work she does.

‘I have had mums stop me in the street to say thanks; and such positive feedback from staff and families. The whole experience has been much more cathartic and fulfilling than I ever expected.’

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