Easter is a tough time of year for the Learmonth/Addington Fire Brigade volunteer. It is when she is reminded of her 10-month-old daughter Larna, who passed away the day before Good Friday in 2005.
Sarah has been on a fundraising crusade since then, helping raise over $30,000 towards the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal in the past 14 years. Upon meeting Sarah in Learmonth, near Ballarat, it is clear to see the passion she has for the appeal and easy to understand why.
A benign tumour on Larna’s heart caused it to stop beating, and after first being revived by Sarah and then paramedics, she was airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. After a week on life support, Sarah and her husband were forced into making the most agonising decision any parent can possibly make.
In typically selfless style Sarah is able to acknowledge the efforts of those around her during those seven days despite the tragic outcome.
“The Royal Children’s Hospital was incredible to us,” she says.
“I didn’t know Melbourne so I wouldn’t have known where to go or where to stay, but they sorted out accommodation and meals - all free.
“Larna had one dedicated nurse at all times. They did everything they possibly could.
“They were unbelievable and I can never thank them enough.”
The Royal Children’s Hospital is the leading paediatric hospital in Australia, and has been treating the state’s children and adolescents for the past 140 years. It’s as much of a Victorian institution as CFA.
Flicking through an album of photos of Larna, Sarah says they do far more than treat sick kids.
“They organised for a photographer to come in during her last couple of days.
“At the time it wasn’t something I’d thought about and wasn’t even sure I wanted, but now looking back, I’m so glad I’ve got these photos.
“For years afterwards we got cards from the cardiologists and nurses at the hospital around Easter, and they did really comprehensive testing for my sons to make sure there was no genetic condition.
“They just went so far above and beyond.”
Life has not always dealt Sarah an easy hand. She was 14 when her sister was murdered in the backyard of her family home, surely enough grief to contend with for a lifetime. After losing Larna, Sarah separated from her husband, and couldn’t return to her job as a nurse due to the impact of being in hospitals. She has also battled health issues in recent times.
Despite all this, Sarah welcomes me at her local brigade with a big, warm smile and speaks to me as if I’m an old friend. Having dealt with her fair share of misfortune, she has responded by choosing to help others less fortunate than her.
She became involved with Ambulance Auxiliaries as a volunteer for a number of years following her sister’s passing, and continues that relationship today. She joined the CFA as a volunteer around five years ago at the insistence of her partner Matt, and currently holds the role of Health and Safety Coordinator at Learmonth/Addington brigade.
During fire season she knocks on the doors of those in bushfire prone areas to provide safety information and check fire-ready plans.
A new calling in childcare replaced her previous life as a nurse, with helping others being the common denominator between those two careers. She now has her hands full with sons Liam (13), Sam (10), Connor (9) and step-daughter Molly (9), and serves as team manager for the kids’ football club on Saturday mornings.
On top of all this she manages to find time to raise money for a cause to close to her.
After finding solace in a mother’s support network for SIDS, she began baking cakes for the group in exchange for a donation to the Royal Children’s Hospital. Baking cakes turned into community BBQs, election day breakfasts, auctions at the football club, and raffles around town. Before long a $1 book shop was set up in Larna’s honour at Creswick library, with book donations coming in by the hundreds.
This year she has organised for the sale of a large load of firewood, a hot commodity pre-winter in the cooler Ballarat area, with the proceeds to go towards the Good Friday Appeal.
While she does all of this out of her own time, it seems a no-brainer for Sarah.
“The money raised goes towards providing the best equipment, getting the best people into that hospital so that the kids have the best chance,” she said.
“Larna didn’t make it but there are so many that do, and it’s because of the hospital.”
“When you think about that, it’s not too much to give really”.