Alan Outen still remembers the day he found out his then eleven- year-old son had cancer. “It was devastating…beyond devastating if there is such a thing,” Alan says. Alan was told his son had Aidan had Burkitt’s Leukaemia, a rare but deadly blood cancer. Aidan had been feeling poorly but there was no indication that the diagnosis would be so devastating.
This was in June of 2013. “In December of that year we were told he wouldn’t make it to Christmas…but he did. Aidan hung on until June of 2014. I was at his bedside when he died.”
Alan is now a carer at a home in Emsworth but early next year, the former cleaning supervisor and car mechanic will be starting on a journey to become a paediatric nurse. His goal? “I want to specialise in palliative care for children.”
Aidan was treated at QA Hospital and was whilst watching the nurses take care of his son during that horribly difficult year that Alan decided he wanted to do more than just sit at his son’s bedside. “I wanted to actually care for my son; I decided to take an IV training course.”
It was the first step of his journey to become a nurse.
Alan began to take on more caring opportunities. In fact, Alan took such good care of Aidan that Aidan would often refer to his father as his “special nurse.” Alan admits that so much of his son’s illness was out of his control, so the simple fact that he could be pro-active and look after Aidan helped him deal with his son’s increasing health difficulties.
“For the first six months we let doctors take the lead, but once we realized that he was terminal, my wife Emma and I wanted him home with us as much as possible.” It was during this period, when his son was getting more and more poorly that Alan felt an even more profound pull towards nursing as a calling.
“The nurses at QA were amazing. I feel like Aiden had the “A Team” looking after him. They knew I liked looking after my son—actually they knew that I needed to look after my son– and they sometimes would come in and let me change his bandages—I was well supervised, of course. But it meant a lot. I really appreciated the opportunity to do something positive.”
Alan personally helped administer his son’s pain killers towards the end—and helped with the anti-sickness medicine.
After taking time to deal with the profound grief he felt over the loss of his son, Alan and his wife Emma took action. They decided not to have Aidan die in vain so they set up a charity in his name called Aidan’s Activity Fund. “Aidan would only ever complain if he was bored. I realised that sick children could do with games and books. We provided QA Hospital with craft activities, activity packs, and even a playroom.
On the 5th and 6th of August, Alan and three other people are doing a 160 kilometer walk to raise funds for the charity. “We are aiming to complete the walk in under 48 hours by walking through the night without sleeping.”
And then there is the big career change. A year ago Alan, then thirty-seven, took his GCSE’s and applied to, and was accepted at, the University of Surrey to study nursing.
Alan understands that the next three years will not be easy. “I don’t know what I would do without my wife. She is paying the bills and supporting me. She understands why I am doing what I am doing.” As far as his decision not just to become a nurse, but to specialise in the branch of nursing that will be particularly challenging for a father of a deceased child—the palliative care of children, Alan says: “Someone needs to do it.”
It seems Aidan’s “special nurse” will make a difference in many family’s lives.