For the past decade, Ljubica has been a larger-than-life presence at Westmead, not just conducting her cleaning duties but also befriending hundreds of patients and personalising their hospital stays.
“Every patient is my father, my mother, my daughter, my neighbour,” says Ljubica Simic, who works at Westmead Hospital in Sydney and has been called the “happiest hospital cleaner in the world”. “This is my family.”
For the past decade, Yugoslavian-born Ljubica has been a larger-than-life presence at Westmead, not just conducting her cleaning duties but also befriending hundreds of patients and personalising their hospital stays – as though they were her own family. “If I can make a smile on somebody’s face, I’m really happy,” she says.
Ljubica brings patients flowers, food and extra hospital supplies such as blankets and water. But she is perhaps best known for dancing through the hospital hallways, mop in hand, to cheer up the unwell. A recent video of her dancing with a cerebral palsy patient received more than 1000 likes on Western Sydney Health’s Facebook page.
“If somebody is listening to music, I hold my mop and I dance,” she says matter-of-factly. “Oh, there are so many smiling faces.”
And she has been known to try her hand at any musical style. “We have patients from every different country, and it doesn’t matter which music is playing … I’m a flexible person,” she says. “I grew up dancing.”
Ljubica arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1993. “In my country was war,” she says. “So much danger. On the first day we arrive here – me and my brother, sister-in-law and my niece, who was just four years old – my niece said, ‘Oh, be quiet, be quiet, maybe soldiers can hear us.’ She didn’t know we were already in Australia.”
Ljubica was taken aback by the support she and her family received from Australians and the Australian government. “There were too many things touching my heart,” she says. “I have never forgotten this first year. Somebody opened their hands for us to come here and we needed to give ourselves for this country.”
Ljubica returned to Europe in 2006 to care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. A short time later, her mother received a bone-cancer diagnosis, too. “The doctor told me, ‘We can’t help you,’” Ljubica says. But she remained positive and helped her mother make lifestyle and diet adjustments.
“After three months, my mother got colour in her face. After six months, she was walking with a walker.” Ljubica stayed with her mother until 2008, when she passed away; her father also died during this time.
Returning to Australia, Ljubica began working at Westmead. Two years later, in recognition of her knack for cheering up patients, her manager moved her into the leukaemia unit. Ljubica says working in an environment with so many critically ill children was confronting at first. “But when I saw how these kids loved me, I gave my heart and my love to them,” she says.
Today, Ljubica says her gratitude towards the Australian people keeps her motivated. “This is my country, my future,” she says. “I think this is the best country on the world.”