Yorkshire Evening Post
Friday 20 March 2020
By Joanna Wardill
Much-loved hospital healthcare worker Janet Berry has retired after devoting over half her life to caring for some of the city’s poorliest children and their families.
Clinical support worker Janet Berry has clocked up 31 years on the wards in Leeds – nearly all on the congenital heart unit, making her its longest-serving staff member.
Her peers have described her as “a friend to all” who often goes “above and beyond” and a post on the unit’s Facebook page attracted nearly 200 comments from families wishing her a happy retirement and paying tribute to her “heart of gold”.
Janet, 60, worked her last shift on Monday and said she was feeling “overwhelmed” having to say goodbye to the job she has adored.
Janet Berry, on her last shift as a clinical support worker on the congenital heart ward at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture: Steve Riding Copyright: jpimediaresell
The grandmother-of-four, of Bramley, said: “I absolutely love my job. It’s taken me two years to make this decision.
“I will miss it all. I will miss my colleagues, I will miss the families and the children getting better, these children that maybe couldn’t walk when they came in, now running down the corridor. They are pink not blue. They run up and give you a big hug. It’s so rewarding.”
Janet began her career in 1978 when she was 18 on the tuberculosis ward before they closed it down and a senior nurse sent her and a colleague to the children’s ward at former Killingbeck Hospital.
She spent ten years there, then had ten years off to have her two children before returning in 1998 to continue, now on ward 51 at Leeds General Infirmary.
She said she has “grown with the job”, becoming a mum herself and also experiencing family traumas of her own, including, very sadly, losing her elder sister, who died aged 36 giving birth to her stillborn baby.
That made me realise [what it’s like] being on the other side. I can put my feet in other people’s shoes and take these mummies under my wing and look after them really.
I have learned a lot. Having my own children and knowing as a new mum how I felt. I can honestly say I’m a mum and I know what it’s like to have a baby.
I know what it’s like to breastfeed and express. And how hard it is, and how very tiring it is. You feel like a zombie some days. If I can be there and give a little bit of support. To be able to ask ‘are you ok? have you eaten today?’
Quite a lot of parents don’t want to interrupt the nursing staff so if there’s someone there that can say ‘talk to me, what’s wrong, can I help?’ I just love it. If I think I’ve done a good job, I can go home a happier person.
Photo of Janet Berry, taken during her career as a clinical support worker on the congenital heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary. Copyright: CHSF
During her decades on the heart unit she has seen many changes, such as the equipment, beds and the introduction of less invasive surgeries.
There’s obviously been a lot of progression in treatment. So babies that many years ago we couldn’t do anything for, they will operate on now with quite successful surgeries. Those children that years ago wouldn’t have survived are now surviving.
It’s such quick recovery for children too now. Children used to be in weeks and months. You still have some complex patients who are in a long time but they do go home so quickly now and children are so resilient. They are so fantastic at recovering. When they’re getting up and wanting to play, they are getting better – far better than us as adults.
Janet Berry, pictured with Prince Philip in around 1989. Copyright: other
Janet has also seen the unit’s support charity, Children’s Heart Surgery Fund – which this year the Yorkshire Evening Post is backing in its mission to raise £1m – go from strength to strength over the years.
“That started with two people in a cabin. It’s really taken off, they’re fantastic. They put the work in and we reap the benefits really.
Not just in staff training, they get brand new equipment – quite expensive items, including the new hybrid theatre and MRI scanning unit. They raised a phenomenal amount of money to be able to build this fantastic amenity.
And the children, when they have had an operation they get a teddy and a certificate and medal. It’s just a beautiful gesture to them. It’s that acknowledgement that they’ve had heart surgery. No-one else has got this teddy.
They also support the whole family. The stresses that these parents can do without when their child has been in for heart surgery – to take that stress and strain off them, they’re doing a fantastic job.
Now Janet says she is looking forward to spending more time with her family, including her 83-year-old mother and four grandchildren but acknowledges it will be a hard adjustment.
I will miss it all. It puts life into perspective. I’m so fortunate that I have had two children that are grown up and have children of their own and we are good. I’m grateful. These families aren’t here out of choice. I think we have to make their journey here the best we can.
Sarah Holroyd, Ward Sister said Janet has provided “the highest standard of care” to children and families and will be “truly missed”. She highlighted her as being “especially invaluable” in supporting breastfeeding mothers and added:
Janet is so kind and thoughtful and throughout her years of working for our unit, from Killingbeck Hospital to Ward 51 and everything in between, we have appreciated all of her hard work, often going above and beyond her role.
Sharon Milner, CEO of Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, said:
Janet is someone people have been able to rely on, her calming influence, can-do attitude has lasted through multiple decades, as she helped support both staff members and patients, through their journey.
Janet has played a vital role in the Congenital Heart service, and she has looked after thousands of families; she will be missed by her colleagues. Janet’s kind nature, and fantastic work ethic will be remembered by many for a long time to come.
CHSF staff and trustees wish her a very happy retirement.