Muriel Searl has been taking seriously ill children on a holiday of a lifetime for 25 years
Muriel Searl has helped countless children in her 25 years as a Dreamflight volunteer, and some memories bring tears to her eyes.
She recalls one “shining child” who adored Star Wars. “I took him to the Star Wars shop after a nasty hospital session. But he insisted on getting his dad a present, so I had to sneak back afterwards to buy him one too. It was a life-sized R2D2 and we surprised him with it on his birthday. I can see his face now. I was so upset when he died six months later, but I always remember how wonderful he was.”
Dreamflight takes seriously ill children on a once in a lifetime trip to Florida, without their parents. Ms Searl volunteers with the charity as well as performing her full-time role as sister-in-charge of the day surgery unit at the NHS Ross Hall Hospital in Glasgow.
“Student nurses can’t believe this ancient crumble in front of them has done all these things,” she says.
Beginning her career in January 1966 as a paediatric nurse at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, she went on to nurse in Canada as well as spending almost 10 years as a non-medical British Airways cabin crew member. She settled down in 1987 and started working at the Ross Hall Hospital. Her most remarkable achievements have been with Dreamflight.
“We were at a British Airways dinner in January 1987 chatting with the then future Dreamflight founders - Patricia Pearce and Derek Pereira - about their idea to help sick children. My husband gave them £100 from a putting competition to help them get started.”
Dreamflight’s first trip in October that year was a tremendous success and, two years later, Ms Searl decided to join the charity. By 1993, she had become the West of Scotland team leader.
She usually takes a week off in October to accompany children and dedicates one full day each week to Dreamflight, as well as squeezing whatever else needs to be done around her work schedule.
“I do public speaking, fundraising, find the children and coordinate the trips - as well as working at the hospital,” she laughs.
Ms Searl applies her nursing skills to every trip.
“We have children who require dialysis, enemas, bowel wash-outs and overnight feeds. We have children with advanced muscular dystrophy, with complicated medical regimes and those who are totally dependent in terms of mobility. So you have to think ahead of the game,” she explains.
Dreamflight tries to normalise these serious medical problems and bring joy to the children’s experience.
“We had a boy who was doubly incontinent and we had to use the public lavatory. We got the funniest looks but the boy just started to laugh. The next thing you know we’re all in hysterics. At the reunion a year later, the boy came up to us and asked to go back to the loos for old time’s sake. We started to laugh all over again,” she remembers.
Her work at Dreamflight undoubtedly changes the lives of children and families.
“We had one little boy with a tracheotomy. His parents were so nervous because he had been the victim of bullying,” she says. “But he had the time of his life. We were sent a little boy needing care but gave back a young man confident in his own skin.”
She was shocked to learn about the MBE nomination and felt the award should go to all Dreamflight volunteers. However, her daughter convinced her that the award would raise the profile of Dreamflight as a whole: “She made me realise that the honour had really come from the parents and children who had nominated me.”
Unfortunately, last October was Ms Searl’s last trip with Dreamflight. She feels it’s time to let someone else run the team.
“It was a difficult decision because I’m a very bossy and interfering person,” she says.
She will continue as a Dreamflight ambassador, and will stay working full time at the hospital.