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ROLE MODEL

A life’s work in child health

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Jaswant Sira has spent over 20 years caring for seriously ill children - using several languages

Jaswant Sira trained in paediatric nursing 42 years ago at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. In January, she commemorated 23 years as a hepatology nurse specialist and lead nurse in viral hepatitis.

Ms Sira has contributed greatly to the care and treatment of children with viral hepatitis. When she retires this month, she

will leave a legacy of groundbreaking work recognised by her colleagues both at the hospital and around the country.

Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s liver unit is one of three such units in the UK. It is known for its success in treating children with liver disease and liver and bowel transplants.

The centre has provided a designated nurses service for hepatitis B and C for more than 20 years as well as children’s liver transplants. This year, it celebrates 25 years.

In all that time as a nurse, Ms Sira says she has “never regretted being a nurse”. Her main joy today is looking after patients and all it entails.

Originally from Kenya, Ms Sira came to England to train in midwifery in Scotland in 1970 and later qualified in paediatric nursing. Ms Sira took time off when she married and had children and returned to work in 1987.

Ms Sira has made remarkable contributions in her field as a result of the many languages she speaks and her ability to identify with a variety of patients.

Her languages include Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi and Swahili. Ms Sira says speaking different languages has been very valuable, especially when working with families of small children. In the early 1990s, Ms Sira helped treat many patients from Pakistan and India who were prevented from learning about healthcare by a language barrier.

“Many of my patients couldn’t speak English, which made home care a challenge. Often, the children needed a transplant and would need to take multiple drugs, so it was a huge help to be able to speak to their mothers in their own language and instruct them on care and medication,” Ms Sira says.

She can even recall teaching some mothers how to tell time, so they could give their children medication on the proper schedule.

Ms Sira has often gone above and beyond in ensuring her patients are properly cared for both in the hospital and at home.

One of the most memorable aspects of her career has been reconnecting with patients who she helped treat as children, many of whom would not be alive today were it not for the care she helped provide.

“Many of these patients have children of their own now and are doing extremely well. That’s very rewarding to see when they first came in with a very low chance of survival,” Ms Sira says.

In Ms Sira’s time at the hospital, she has seen many changes and expansions. She says the liver unit has grown in size and expertise over the past several years.

“When I first started as a nurse, we didn’t even know what hepatitis C was. To now be able to identify and treat that is very rewarding.

“Our nursing staff at the liver unit has also grown. Three nurses shared an office in a Portakabin for about eight years, and have now grown to 10 nurses and have our own ward.”

Her commitment to excellence has been widely recognised and she was awarded an MBE by the Queen in 2004 for her services to healthcare.

She was also commended as a best caring health professional by the charity WellChild in 2005 for her contributions to children’s healthcare. She was nominated by her colleagues for her work as an advocate for non-English speaking families.

Ms Sira is appreciative of a position that enables her to use her language abilities and clinical knowledge to change children’s lives. “I feel very fortunate indeed,to have worked in an aspiring unit with very hard-working and dedicated staff,” Ms Sira says.

Rachel Stanback

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