Personal experience of terminal illness affecting loved ones, coupled with the desire to make a difference through a career in healthcare, have combined to lead a young student to St Luke’s, where she’s become a familiar face at our specialist unit at Turnchapel.

With her warm, friendly manner as she serves customers at our Driftwood Café, you wouldn’t immediately guess how challenging the past year has been for volunteer Ellie Naughton. Not only has the 17-year-old lost her beloved grandmother and her much-loved auntie, too, these two special ladies died within just a week of each other.

Talking with Ellie though, it’s clear that out of heartbreak has come something incredibly positive – the determination to forge a career as a paramedic, where she can use her personal experience and empathy to be there for people, helping them during times of trauma.

As a first step on the way to achieving her dream job, Ellie enrolled at Scott Medical and Healthcare College in Plymouth, where she’s studying towards a BTEC qualification in health and social sciences. Her interest in taking up a six-month placement at St Luke’s as part of her course was pricked by the many stories of our charity’s great work she heard from friends who volunteer at our shop on the Ridgeway, close to where Ellie lives.

She said: “Although I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I started my placement last year, I was already aware of the great reputation of the charity and the amazing work it does with families across the community. This gave me confidence that I would be learning from the best.”

In fact, Ellie’s placement with the Catering team went so well that when it finished she seized the opportunity to volunteer so she could continue being part of the big-hearted team serving café visitors, replenishing stock and taking food and drinks to our patients on the ward.

Every Thursday, she puts in a five-hour shift, putting into practice the skills and experience she’s gained and getting further insight into those St Luke’s cares for and supports.

While people of any age might find it daunting to be interacting with people in the last weeks or days of their lives, Ellie’s experience of being alongside her grandmother and auntie during their illness means she has not been unduly phased by this. She also strongly relates to the emotions their relatives feel, knowing time with their loved one is limited and so all the more precious.

She said: “I was immediately struck with how bright and airy it is on the unit and how it is miles from how many people probably imagine a hospice to be.

“I absolutely love meeting the patients and getting to know them. Hearing about their lives and listening to their memories makes you appreciate them as a whole person, rather than just being aware of their illness. It’s hard knowing that they don’t have much time left, but so reassuring that it’s St Luke’s caring for them – I know they’re getting five-star treatment.

“It’s a real privilege to be with them even for a short time and to share that little bit of their lives.”

Looking ahead, Ellie is aiming to study for a degree in paramedicine at the University of Plymouth before entering the profession and possibly going on to become an advanced practitioner paramedic so that she can specialise.

Before then, she’ll be donning leg-warmers and joining her mum and friend for this summer’s biggest girls’ night out – our fabulous 80s-themed Midnight Walk – in memory of two very special people, of course.

Well done, Ellie! You’re such an inspiration, and thank you for all you’re doing for St Luke’s.

Learn more about volunteering at St Luke’s.