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Denise McGrath: driving force behind Kids of Macarthur juggernaut is calling it a day

It’s 10pm on Saturday, June 1 and the annual Kids of Macarthur Foundation fundraising Ball in the Cube is in full swing. The formalities are all but over and everyone is just having a good time. Among the doctors present is Dr Raymond Chin, the head of paediatrics at Campbelltown Hospital.

Dr Chin’s phone rings, he answers it and after finishing the conversation he gets up to leave.

He heads straight to the hospital to treat a critically ill baby that’s just been brought in.

Dr Chin looks at the sick baby at emergency before getting a videolaryngoscopy machine bought by the Kids of Macarthur Foundation that was locked away in a hospital room.

He uses the machine, for the first time, and literally saves the baby’s life.

“We’re all at the Ball, dancing and having fun, and he’s there saving a little baby’s life, using a machine that we bought last funding round,’’ says Denise McGrath, the driving force of the foundation for the past 18 years.

“And Dr Chin said to me: Denise, without the Kids of Macarthur Foundation the baby would have died.’’

Denise McGrath earlier this year with Salv Carmusciano, general manager of the Macarthur Football Association promoting a City v Country fundraiser for Kids of Macarthur Foundation.

Denise McGrath became the chief executive officer of the Kids of Macarthur Foundation two years after it was formed as a charity to raise funds to buy medical equipment for the paediatric wards of our local hospitals.

“The things I’ve noticed over the past 18 years, Macarthur, and which we all know it’s incredibly generous – our three leanest years were related 100 percent to three catastrophes: the tsunami in Indonesia, the bushfires in Victoria and the floods in Brisbane.

“They were our three leanest years because we went to all our strong supporters and they all said, we’ve given so much to this or that cause.

“And so it impacted on us, but you can’t be bitter because they’re still giving, they’re just giving to a worse situation,’’ Ms McGrath said.

Having decided to retire, she sat down with the South West Voice in Macarthur to talk about a job that put her right in the heart of the local community.

She has a ton of stories to tell about the generosity of the people and the businesses of Campbelltown and Macarthur – and I’m all ears.

“When I used to have an office in the hospital, so many times I would come in to work and there would be an envelope under the door,’’ recalls Ms McGrath.

“People would go and see their child or grand child hooked up to a machine purchased by Kids of Macarthur and they wanted to give straight away.

“And how good is Fairmont Homes to come on board to build homes three times and give us the proceeds.’’

Receiving a certificate of appreciation from MP Greg Warren on the 20th anniversary of the Kids of Macarthur Foundation.

With Denise McGrath at the helm the foundation has become a charity juggernaut that has raised more than $10 million for children’s services in our hospitals.

At first it was pretty much the annual Ball, but things are a lot more hectic these days in the office of the foundation.

“We have a fundraising event nearly every month,’’ Ms McGrath says.

There is – among others – a ladies lunch, a night at the trots, a couple of golf days a year, Christmas gift wrapping service and a 50s and Collectables Fair (on this weekend).

A new event on the horizon is a Melbourne Cup lunch with a difference.

The foundation’s Christmas wishing trees are overwhelmed with so many toy gifts that there are enough left over for Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas in July, Father’s Day and even Book Week.

But the bottom line is raising money to boost health services for children.

“Everything we buy is something the hospitals haven’t gone any money in their budget,’’ explains Ms McGrath.

“For example, we’ve replaced every incubator in the special care nursery.’’

If it wasn’t for the foundation our hospitals would not boast some of the latest, cutting edge equipment in the paediatric wards.

“If they have a suspected heart defect, local children used to get sent to Westmead [Children’s Hospital] with a referral, and they’d have to wait three months for the results,’’ Ms McGrath said.

“So we bought the machine and the test can be done right here.

“We bought the mobile X-ray machine, so a critically ill child doesn’t have to be taken to radiology – we bring radiology to them and they don’t have to move.’’

But wait, there’s more; much more.

Another fundraiser: Denise McGrath speaking at this year’s women’s luncheon.

“We have funded resuscitaters at all the birthing units – in the old days the baby was born and put on a little table, now they are put on a resuscitater that monitors all their vital signs,’’ she says.

In the next few months Denise McGrath will use up some of her accumulated long service leave before handing over the reins to her successor around Easter next year.

As for the future, she plans to stay on as a director of a number of boards she’s on and will continue to run the golf day for the foundation.

“Work becomes part of your identity, so I will stay involved in my community as a volunteer after leaving the Kids of Macarthur Foundation,’’ she says.

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