Building changes needed to care for children and provide space for families.

Anna Rennie knows just how poor the living conditions have been for parents with sick children in hospital: she had to sleep on an office chair during one of her daughter Mia's stays for severe epilepsy.

Mia, now aged 8, had her first epilepsy admission to the Starship children's hospital in Auckland when she was 4 months old.

"By the time she was 4 years old she was having about 50 seizures per day and they were quite violent. Her epilepsy was out of control. The drugs didn't work, so we were looking for a miracle," Ms Rennie said.

"She had a drug reaction when she was 4 that brought us in for a two-month stay on level 6. It became home.


"I slept here. I think it improves outcomes to have that close family contact during treatment."

In 2009, Mia had surgery to remove a 5cm strip of the right frontal lobe of her brain - and she hasn't had a seizure since. The surgery left her with a slight weakness on her left side and she had to learn to walk and talk again.

Ms Rennie, an employee of the Starship Foundation, attended its function yesterday to mark the start of the reconstruction of the two wards on level 6 - with the smashing of a wall - and to acknowledge the $6 million project's donors.

Ms Rennie said Mia was at times in a shared room and her frequent seizures were very disruptive for the other patients. "I slept on a mattress on the floor - or on a chair, an office chair; I had my head on the bed. That was when she was in the HDU [high dependency unit]."

Sandy Murphy, the charge nurse of one of the two wards being rebuilt, recalled the excitement - and the dismay - when the Starship was new, 21 years ago.

"As we moved in it was with some disappointment we realised the building hadn't kept up with the way in which we cared for children, and that was with families. A lot of the rooms were designed for children to stay, but not their parents. In this day and age we would say, 'How can you run a ward without parents?"'