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Cancer survivor takes toys to children on hospital ward that cared for her

A teenager has given back to the hospital ward which cared for her as she battled leukaemia by providing patients with hundreds of toys.

Thirteen-year-old Rhea Oke was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was six and spent “long periods” on Epsom Hospital’s Casey Ward, often in isolation due to her illness.

Little girl in a hospital bed
Rhea during her time in hospital (Carley Oke/PA)

As staff would do their best to keep her entertained via boxes filled with toys and activities, Rhea decided to repay the kind gesture to mark five years since finishing her treatment.

Alongside her mother Carley, Rhea set up an online wishlist and through promoting it on social media, 270 gifts were donated by family, friends and strangers.

Girl standing resting on pile of parcels
Rhea with some of the parcels delivered to her home (Carley Oke/PA)

“I really wasn’t expecting to get as many donations as this – I was aiming for about 100, and was really shocked. I’d like to say thank you to everyone who donated,” the 13-year-old from Carshalton, in south London, said.

“I thought about the toys that I would like or that I have played with.

“I’ve been here myself, so I know what it’s like.”

Rhea’s mother added that she is “very proud” of her efforts.

Toys on the floor
Some of the toys donated by Rhea (Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals/PA)

“It was a difficult period after Rhea was diagnosed and we spent a lot of time on the ward,” she said.

“We got to know everyone quite well – in fact, we probably spent more time with a lot of them than we did our own family! Everyone was really nice and did their best to keep Rhea entertained and happy.

“Because she was here so often, Rhea always used to say Room 5 was her bedroom, and the last time she was here she even noticed how her ‘bedroom’ had been decorated!”

Children undergoing chemotherapy cannot use toys or activities in the hospital playroom due to the risk of infection, instead requiring new and unopened items, which Rhea’s idea lent itself to fittingly.

Group of women standing together
Rhea with staff on Casey Ward (Epson and St Helier University Hospitals/PA)

Lucy Lloyd-James, lead nurse for Epsom and St Helier’s paediatric oncology shared care unit, said: “I’ve known Rhea for years, ever since she was diagnosed, and it’s brilliant to see her doing so well now. It’s why we do the jobs we do.

“I honestly can’t thank Rhea enough. The effort she has put in is phenomenal and she has really thought about what other children would like to see and what they will benefit from.

“Thanks to Rhea, we will hopefully be able to make their experiences just a bit more positive.”

Girl surrounded by toys
Rhea when she donated toys in 2020 (Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals)

In 2020 – before the pandemic – Rhea also donated roughly 70 items to the ward.

Epsom and St Helier’s Charity has an Amazon wishlist for children being cared for at Epsom Hospital and Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children.

The Epsom Hospital wishlist can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/26BI08G5BGCQE?ref_=wl_fv_le

The Queen Mary’s wishlist can be accessed here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/2TF7JYVWCYQAL?ref_=wl_fv_le