A nurturing instinct spurred Daksha Elliott into working with children and ensuring their voices are heard
For many, a passport means leisurely trips overseas but for Daksha Elliott it’s an excuse to work for a cause. For her “nursing is a passport to travel the world” - a mentality that has taken her across the globe before bringing her back to the UK to be the lead nurse and counsellor for the sickle cell and thalassemia service at Leicester’s Merlyn Vaz Health and Social Care Centre.
“I always knew I wanted to become a nurse; I always wanted to work with children. I think it was a nurturing thing.” After four years studying paediatric and adult nursing care at the University of Manchester, she spent five years in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the then Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Then the chance to work in a PICU in Saudi Arabia arose; the experience was like no other: “I explored a culture that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to learn about.”
Passport in hand, she then moved to the US before being offered a paediatric nurse position in haematology back in the UK.
“This is where my love of haematology began. I worked with a forward-thinking haematology consultant who encouraged me to transit from haemophilia specialist nurse to the first obstetric haematology nurse in the UK. I was in this post for six years until the opportunity arose to work as a haemoglobinopathy specialist nurse in the community. The experience opened up a whole new way of working with people with long-term conditions.”
Ms Elliott still works in haemoglobinopathy. At her first job outside of a hospital, she has come to embrace the community. “The patients in hospitals are sick, come in, get better and leave. Working in a community is about keeping people well for a lifetime.
“We care for pregnant women who are carriers of haemoglobinopathies and urge them to get their partner tested. If the test is positive, the couple is at risk of having a child with a haemoglobinopathy. The process can be emotionally strenuous. In talking them through decisions, I have to remain non-judgmental and impartial. It’s hard - they will often ask my opinion, but the decision is very personal.”
If the family has a child with a haemoglobinpathy, Ms Elliott plays an active role in the child’s life and works with the family and community. “If the child is at school, we work directly with the school nurses; we explain the condition and work to spread awareness.
“The problem is, very little is known about sickle cell disease and thalassemia among health professionals.” To combat this, Ms Elliott and her team received £5,000 from the Queen’s Nursing Institute to create an insert to go in the health records of children with the disorders. Carried by parents, this includes the contact number of specialists.
The insert also eliminates another hurdle - language. “The group with this disease comes from countries with a high risk of malaria - mainly Africa and areas in the Mediterranean,” Ms Elliott explains. For many, English is not their native language so all information relevant to the child’s health is in their preferred language and English, so they get the best treatment regardless of communication barriers. “I want carers to have a form of communication that doesn’t restrict care,” she says.
Those with the disorders may fall victim to prejudice. Ms Elliott often meets parents who refuse to share their child’s condition with the whole family due to the prejudice associated with blood diseases.
“It’s important to understand people’s cultural and spiritual beliefs because these can impact on how they deal with the condition. Families need to learn this is a hereditary disease and nothing to be ashamed of.”
The rewards of Ms Elliott’s job lie in impacting on those often unaccounted for. “Our specialisation deals with a group of people who are left in the background.
To give these people a voice is what makes it worthwhile.”
A framework for nurses to help them care for patients with sickle cell disease and thalassemia was launched last week and supported by the Royal College of Nursing. See tinyurl.com/sct-screening