Debbie is an inspirational, intelligent, funny and extraordinary Nan. She was an Occupational Therapist for over 20 years and was named ‘Occupational Therapist of the Year’ twice! She has a fantastic imagination – often coming up with magical games to play with her grandchildren – and she loves cooking, gardening and making art.

For several years, Debbie has been living with Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) – a rare and complex disorder that affects the brain. MSA can cause difficulties with speech, loss of muscle coordination, and slow movement. There is no cure for MSA and no medication to slow down the progression. However for Debbie, living with MSA doesn’t define her – it just limits her physical ability. That’s why she comes to Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, as she wants to learn more about how she can live well with her illness.

Debbie is also an incredibly proud Nan to 12-year-old Grace, 10-year-old Millie, and 6-year-old Rose. The three grandchildren have seen first-hand the “fantastic care” that their Nan and family has received and so to say thank you to the Hospice, they decided to take on our Loop the Loop Day – an adrenaline-filled challenge which sees people complete a movie-style loop in a Slingsby Firefly aircraft. Read their inspiring story below and discover how these three brave girls got on with the challenge…

You took on our Loop the Loop Day – what inspired you to complete such a terrifying challenge?

Rose: I really like Amelia Earhart – she was a female pilot and she did lots of firsts for women and planes. So I wanted to be the first ever six-year-old to do a loop in a plane for the Hospice!

Millie: We also really like Blue Peter and one of our favourite presenters, Lindsey Russell, recently did a role in a plane. We met the other presenter, Radzi Chinyanganya, and told him about our Loop the Loop challenge. He said we should apply for another Blue Peter badge because of our bravery and because we’ve raised so much money and awareness for the charity!

Grace: Our Nan also inspired us to do this challenge. She’s such a brave and giving person, so we wanted to do something brave for her. We think Birmingham St Mary’s is a wonderful charity – all the staff are really friendly and nice – so we thought this would be a good way to give back.

Were you nervous about the challenge?

Grace: Millie and I definitely were! We’re not big thrill-seekers so we were quite scared before going up in the plane. I was nervous about the upside down bit but I knew it was for such a good charity, so wanted to do it.

Millie: I wasn’t going to do it at first but then I found out that we could fly over Warwick Castle, which I thought would be exciting.

Rose: I couldn’t wait to do it! We went to the ‘Take Flight Aviation’ centre beforehand and when the pilot asked if anyone wanted to do a loop in the plane, my hand was the first up! 

So, how did you find it?

Millie: The Loop was amazing and I’d definitely do it again! It was lovely that so many of our friends and family came to support us on the day.

Rose: It was AWESOME! I came out of my seat when I went upside down. I’m definitely going to be a pilot when I’m older.

Grace: The views over Charlecote Park, Stratford and Warwick castle were beautiful. Paul (our pilot) let me take control of the plane for a short while, which was an incredible experience.

You’ve raised a really impressive £3,070 – how did you fundraise for the Hospice?

Grace: We did loads of different things to raise money. We set up a Just Giving page, hosted a raffle, sold books, bucket collected and much more! Our target was to raise £2,500, so we’re really proud that we beat it.

Millie: Selling raffle tickets was really run! We had some amazing prizes to give away, such as Disney on Ice tickets, bowling passes and IMAX cinema tickets. We called up the businesses and spoke to the managers ourselves to ask them to donate prizes – we thought it would be harder for them to say no to us than our Mum!

Grace: I really enjoyed playing the ‘Higher and Lower’ game to raise money. We had these huge, jumbo playing cards that we laid on the floor and people had to guess if the next card would be higher or lower than the one before. It was 50p a go and if you made it all the way across, you won these amazing lollipops that turned your tongue a different colour! My Dad also suggested a donation to the Hospice in lieu of sending Christmas cards this year to his manager at Dekomte – and they ended up donating £500!

Rose: I sold all my old books at a fun run that was happening at our local park. I just had an honesty box, so people could pay whatever they wanted. I also do gymnastics and we had a big gymnastics festival that lots of people came along too. At the festival, went round the audience and bucket collected – people were really kind and put lots of money in and I raised over £200!  

What did people say to you when you were fundraising?

Grace: People were really nice. They kept saying how brave we were.

Rose: We had lots of lovely messages on our Just Giving page. People said things like “good luck fearless Rose!” which was nice to read because it made me even more excited to take on the challenge.

Millie: We had quite a few people say “you’re really brave – I wouldn’t do this challenge”. When we were selling raffle tickets or playing games, we had some people ask us questions about the Hospice too, so we told them all about Birmingham St Mary’s.

You took on the challenge because your Nanny Debbie comes to the Day Hospice – what did she think of you doing the Loop the Loop Day?

Rose: She thinks we’re very brave and she’s really proud of us.

Millie: She feels really privileged that she inspired us to do this. She loves coming to the Hospice – she enjoys doing the art activities in the Day Hospice and every time she visits, she ends up coming back with a new piece of art to hang up in her house!

You’ve visited your Nan in the Hospice – what did you think of it?

Millie: I’m really surprised at how nice it is here – everyone is really kind. I thought the nurses would just focus on Nan but they’re really lovely to us too. They ask us questions like “how was your day”, “what have you been up to” and “how are you feeling”. When they found out that we were doing the Loop the Loop Day they were really shocked but really thankful that we were doing it.

Rose: Everyone is really friendly. We thought we would have to whisper all the time when we were here but it’s not like that at all.

Grace: I like how homely it feels there. Nan had to stay at the Hospice’s Inpatient Unit for a couple of weeks and whilst she was there, it was good knowing that she could still enjoy her home comforts. Grandad and I visited Nan one time and we all sat together and ate scampi and chips – it was lovely! Lots of people at school don’t know what a hospice is and when I tell my friends and teachers, they always say things like “oh, I didn’t realise a hospice would be like that”. It really is a special place.

The Hospice is supporting your Nan to live well with MSA – what do you enjoy doing with her?

Grace: I love cooking with Nan. She’s always been a really good cook and she’s definitely passed on her passion to me. As she struggles with movement now, we’ll often make bread together because she can still knead it – it’s nice to be able to do things together.

Rose: I love Nan’s laugh! She’s always telling jokes and laughing. I also like playing games with her – when we win, we high five each other.

Millie: One of the games we play with her is pass the balloon. We blow up a balloon and keep tapping it so that it doesn’t touch the floor – it’s a fun way of doing a little bit of physio with Nan. We also do little spa sessions with her. We’ll all put face masks on, paint our nails and put on moisturising beauty socks. Sometimes we even get Grandad involved too! It’s nice to do these things that make Nan feel more like herself.  

Grace: We like to do as much as we can with her as we just want to treasure every moment. We’re not about sad stories, we’re about celebrating all the good times.

Thank you Grace, Millie and Rose for sharing your inspiring story with us! You’re fantastic fundraisers and should be really proud of your hard work and bravery.

If you’ve been inspired by their story and would like to do something daring for the Hospice, why not take a look at our brilliant adrenaline challenges? Or, if you would like to donate to Grace’s, Millie’s and Rose’s Just Giving page, you can do so here.