AN Artigarvan mum has raised over £1,200 for a charity close to her heart after running the London Marathon.
Claire Gibson completed the gruelling course earlier this year in a time of six hours and 43 minutes – and it was all to raise money for TinyLife, Northern Ireland’s only premature baby charity.
Her efforts raised an impressive £1,250 for the charity and Claire said it was her way of thanking the charity for their invaluable support after the birth of her daughter, Lily-Rose.
She was born eight weeks and two days prematurely weighing just 3lbs 14.5oz on August 14, 2017 at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Lily-Rose spent the first month of her young life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the hospital before she was ready to come home and is now looking forward to celebrating her second birthday later this summer.
Over 2,000 babies are born too soon, too small or too sick in Northern Ireland. Some arrive as early as 24 weeks weighing as little as 1lb/454 grams – the same weight as half a bag of sugar!
At this understandably very stressful time for parents, TinyLife is there to provide practical advice, emotional support and to give a helping hand to families who have a baby in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, with their network of family support professionals in every Neonatal Unit across Northern Ireland, ensuring parents receive optimum support in hospital, at home and within the community.
Speaking about the importance of TinyLife to her own family, Claire explained: “I know the true value of the service TinyLife provides. I hadn’t heard about TinyLife until we had our daughter.
“It was the day after Lily-Rose was born that I had a visit from TinyLife’s family support officer, Lynn Patterson. Lynn told me all about TinyLife and the many services the charity offered.
“After the support I received, I decided to get involved in fundraising by taking part in the London Marathon. My step-daughter Megan (age 7) even emptied her piggy bank to sponsor me as she wanted to help other babies like her little sister!”
With only six months to train for the mammoth challenge, Claire was certainly a woman on a mission.
“I found out in October, last year, that I’d won a place for the marathon in the ballot, so I only had six months to train,” she explained. “I’ve never run before so it was a big ask! I don’t enjoy running at all but I had the marathon and raising money for TinyLife as my goal.
“When I got to London the day before the race, I found one of Lily-Rose’s dummies in my pocket so I decided to pin it on to my running vest as a good luck charm and in case I needed to remind myself why I was running!”
Admitting that the marathon was tough, the local woman enjoyed the early stages before she started to struggle but it was the thought of why she was taking part that kept her motivated.
“When I got to the half way point at Tower Bridge, I struggled with the thought of going the same distance again. But it was at mile 16 that I really hit the wall with still another ten miles to go. But I persevered and eventually got to the finish line.
“The thought of Lily-Rose and everyone who had sponsored and supported me was what kept me going. I’m absolutely thrilled to have raised so much money; everyone has been so generous.”
Like so many other families with premature babies, Claire and her husband Lee found the post-hospital support invaluable.
“TinyLife have been a great support to my husband Lee and me. The support groups are fantastic. I didn’t feel like I could go to parent and baby groups as the mums are so competitive about reaching milestones and comparing their babies.
“So the TinyLife support groups were brilliant. Everyone had preemies, everyone understood the difficulties you were going through and knew how exciting it was when a milestone was reached no matter how small it seemed. The baby massage course was also really helpful and enjoyable,” she added.
The family still receive support from the charity and Claire says her fundraising is her way of saying a “huge thank-you” to TinyLife.
“To this day, we are still receiving support. Deidre from TinyStart is amazing! She comes to see us once a month and brings toys to help Lily-Rose’s development and provides information about what to expect developmentally in the next month, suggesting games and activities to help Lily-Rose.
“She is so reassuring, and completely understands the struggles some premature children can have. She’s helped us know what to expect and reassured us that Lily-Rose is making great progress. I like to say a huge thank you to TinyLife for all the help and support they have offered to our family and I would recommend their help and support for any other families in the same situation,” Claire said.
For further information on TinyLife visit tinylife.org.uk or find Tinylife on Facebook and Twitter.