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'I believe in encouraging people to be the best they can be'

Donna Thomas
  • 1 Comment

In 1982 I left home, I was nine years old. I was running away from torment, anger and a situation I could neither cope with nor understand. I found myself in London where I met with homeless people who were sleeping rough and fit nicely in to the chaos around me.

My parents signed me into the care of the local authority and over the next nine years I lived between endless children’s homes and the streets of London.

There were times as a child that I felt worthless; I believed that no one cared and began to dislike myself and others. Consumed by street life, I did whatever I had to do to survive.

The trash that I slept among became “my norm” and no one could have made me feel lower then I already did. I was broken and lived every day as if invisible. I took beatings from others, which became a way of life – and life was not good.

At 18 I was given rent and a bond for a bedsit and signed out of care. I decided then that I was not going back to the streets. I found a job at the local council sweeping streets and I began to think there was something more to life.

I started to care about myself, but trust did not come easy, so I continued to hold people at arm’s length.

I worked for the council for several years until one day, I received a letter from my father. He had broken his hip and wanted my help, so I moved over to Wales to help him.

My dad was cantankerous, he fought against me constantly, but I stayed and helped him regardless until he could again help himself.

I needed a job and heard about a role that was being advertised for a nursing auxiliary at a local hospital; I applied with the help of a friend and was successful. It was there that I developed a passion for helping people. I loved my role and dreamed about becoming a real nurse.

One day I witnessed bad practice, which became a turning point for me. A nurse who was renowned for having quite an aggressive attitude took blood from an elderly blind lady. The nurse did not tell the lady she was approaching and began to pull at her sleeve telling her to stay still and proceeded to take the blood sample.

I was shocked and upset and simply asked her: “If that was your mam, would you have treated her the same?” The nurse replied: “If you can do it any better, go do your training”.

My academic past was very limited. My reading and writing was poor. What I did learn in school was quickly forgotten, so I knew I would never amount to much.

One day I had a conversation with a young nurse who I had spoke to on several occasions about my past. Her simple advice was: “You chose to live in the gutter, now choose to get out”.

It is poignant even now and always inspiring to me because the young nurse died a year later from cancer. So, I did choose to get out. I enrolled in a class to learn to read and write properly and then an access course, before going on to university.

Throughout this time, I was wrapped up in an abusive relationship, but my focus to become a nurse pulled me through and out the other side.

I got to university and struggled through every essay and exam because I wanted to be something – someone. And I did. At the end of the three years I passed, and I became the nurse I so desperately wanted to be.

I returned to the ward where I started and worked there for eight years. In that time, I married a wonderful man and we had our beautiful son, whom my heart beats with pride for.

After eight years, I learned to drive and moved on to a district general hospital to pick up acute skills. Then, when my son started school, I returned to the community where I live to district nursing, which I love.

I am now in a position where I can give something back and work regularly with the homeless. I was nominated by Tesco to receive food twice a week that would otherwise be destroyed and it is making a real difference to those sleeping out.

I have also been the driving force in several Christmas operations and have collected money, food, clothing and sleeping bags to help those sleeping out. I never forgot were I came from or the little things that made such a difference when I had nothing.

Twenty-eight years ago, I left London and have returned twice – the first time to support a young student who had won the most inspirational student award with Nursing Times. On that day, we went for a ride on an open top bus. As we went down the Strand, we passed King’s College, where on my second visit I gave a speech for the Queen’s Nursing Institute, covering my story and life on the streets through to becoming a nurse.

A few doors down from King’s College we passed a doorway where I had slept on many occasions from the age of nine. It was at that precise moment in time that I realised how far I had come and felt that I was so very lucky.

I am now training to become a mentor for students and have enrolled on a course to become a nurse prescriber. Because of my past, I embrace life and believe in lifting people – encouraging them to be the best they can be.

Because of my past, I enjoy now and look forward to the future.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Lisa Inglis

    What a story, I sit here with tears rolling down my cheeks. You should be so proud of yourself for you’re strengths, determination and commitment to not stay in a situation that you are not happy in. You believed in yourself when many wouldn’t have. You struggled instead of merely just surviving. Such an inspiring story from an incredibly brave woman. I have worked within the nhs for only 8 years but I know that the best nurses are the ones that have had their own hardships. They somehow know how to genuinely connect with others and offer the best understanding and kindness. This skill and quality cannot be taught in universities or on wards. It’s through stories like this that will encourage genuine people who want to care for others into the field of nursing.

    Perhaps we are seeing less people with such empowering stories because the university degree is getting too academic. Caring for others is not complicated it just has to be to provided by people who simply whole heartedly care.

    Congratulations to you.

    Thank you for sharing this amazing journey you have been on and may you continue to help and inspire others to do the same.

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