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  • Writer's pictureSheree Hoddinett

Sharing Smiles in Scrubs

With a big smile and a splash of colour, Declan Hunt brings cheer to those who need it most.

The 28-year-old from Mango Hill is known for the striking shirts and colourful pants he wears when he visits patients as a volunteer at the Mater Cancer Care Centre and Mater Hospital Emergency Department in South Brisbane each week.

Declan Hunt

What makes Declan even more notable is he’s had his own health challenges to deal with. Declan had to put his nursing studies on hold after being diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), a medical condition which affects the functioning of the nervous system and how the brain and body sends and receives signals. Now back on track with his studies, Declan is also still determined to give back to the community through his colourful visits.

“I've gotten to the point where I can do a lot of things again, but it's a condition which is probably still going to be with me for the rest of my life. You deal with the cards you are dealt and you move on as much as possible and help others as you can.”

Despite facing the difficulty of a medical condition which he will likely live with for the rest of his life, Declan hasn’t let it get in the way of achieving his goals.

“I took two-and-a-half years off my studies because of health issues,” Declan says. “They still don’t really know what happened to cause it, but it’s been a long hard slog to get back to where I am now.

“I had to learn a lot of things again, like how to walk properly. I had a very hard time retraining my brain. I'm still currently doing my nursing placement because I have ticks resolving from the condition. I still have to do placement like everyone else, but I just have ticks at the same time.

“I've gotten to the point where I can do a lot of things again, but it's a condition which is probably still going to be with me for the rest of my life. You deal with the cards you are dealt and you move on as much as possible and help others as you can.”

Declan isn’t shy about admitting this chapter of his life hasn’t been easy to navigate, especially in terms of his mental health struggles.

“I tell people you can’t go through something like this without feeling affected by it,” Declan says. ‘So, it’s definitely been rough but I also think it’s something you have to work through and reframe aspects of your life.

“I think when I started volunteering is where I actually started to really reframe what I was doing. It was something I needed and it was really good for me.”

Heading down the volunteering path was Declan’s way of giving back and utilising his nursing experience. But one aspect that took on a life of its own was Declan’s very colourful appearance.

“I found that everyone wears colours like blue or black and I’m not just talking about doctors and nurses either,” Declan says. “So I started thinking I really needed to liven the place up.

“So it started with just one pair of pants and then came the second pair, but being on a pension I knew I couldn’t keep buying new pants all the time. Eventually I started making a pair of pants a week and then started making all manner of different types of things.”

Along with pants and shirts, Declan has also made eye masks for patients undergoing treatment in the chemo ward and beanies for babies. Knitting and sewing has become a big part of his life, so big in fact a shed at his home with his parents has been converted into their creative space.

“It’s basically become a sewing shop at this point,” Declan says with a laugh. “I spend a lot of time out there sewing with my mum, it’s a constant process.

“I aim for at least one new item a week, but I’ve usually got multiple pieces on the go.”

It was after a stint in the military that Declan decided to take the path into nursing. An interest in the anatomy and learning about the science side of the human body from a young age also propelled him further with the idea. Now he’s very much looking forward to finishing his nursing studies and seeing where it all takes him. But for now, he’s very much invested in his volunteering role and keeping the sewing machine rolling.

“I didn’t even know how to sew before January this year,” Declan says. “I started on my mum’s machine from the 1980s, that thing goes like the clappers!

“I did learn the hard way though, I was actually hand sewing at the start. I even carry a little hand sewing kit around the hospital so that when I inevitably blow a seam because I like to dance and boogie and be silly, I can fix it myself. But believe it or not I also use it to fix other people's buttons and pants as well.”

Referencing the Robin Williams movie Patch Adams, Declan explains part of his volunteering role as clown doctoring.

“I really take pride in trying to just bring a bit of joy back to the sad or bring a little silliness into the mix,” Declan says. “You can be acknowledging all the sad and all the seriousness but bring a little silly in as well because it allows people to feel like children again. They feel safe with you. They allow you to be comfortable.

“All my experience in working with people and adults specifically, we reverse to be children, when we're not well. It’s something we need and I’ve become known for it.”

The best part about being silly? The benefits it can have on others are just one part of the parcel. For Declan, it’s also benefited him in so many ways.

“To be honest with you, it's very hard to be unhappy when you're dressed up like I dress up and bringing joy to everyone else,” Declan says. “You're trying to bring other people joy so it's really hard to be unhappy. I always feel like a million bucks after I finish.

“I’ve been doing this for a little over a year now and I love it. I don't really have an invested interest in it other than just I want to help.”

So if you ever find yourself down in the Mater Cancer Care Centre or Mater Hospital Emergency Department in South Brisbane, keep an eye out for Declan, you definitely won’t miss him in one of his colourful creations!


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