Grateful grandparents are teaming up to walk the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run half marathon to say a heartfelt thankyou to the charity that provided hope after their grandchildren were born with an incurable condition.
Droitwich couple Colin and Christine, aged 75 and 72 respectively, will tackle the 13.1-mile challenge to raise funds and awareness for Edgbaston-based Little Hearts Matter, which provides care and support for families of children born with half a heart across the country.
They will be joined by fellow grandparent Tanya Fraser, 64, who is making a 600-mile round trip from West Lothian, Scotland, to take part in the Midlands' most popular half marathon on Sunday, October 13.
It promises to be an emotional day, especially as Colin and Christine's daughter Sally Evans, from Bromsgrove, will be part of the 13-strong group of family and friends walking the route.
Sally's second child Thomas was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition midway through her pregnancy. At times, Thomas was so poorly during his first five years the family “really didn't know if he was going to make it”.
Tanya's son Iain is also making the journey down from north of the border to take part after his son Ellis, five, was also born with half a heart.
“Walking over 13 miles is going to be really tough but it will also be a lovely occasion as everyone in our group will either have been directly supported by Little Hearts Matter, or knows someone who has,” said Colin.
“Tanya, Christine and I are the lucky grandparents as our grandchildren survived after being diagnosed with single ventricle heart condition. Not everyone is as lucky – only half the babies born with the condition live to see their fifth birthday.”
Also joining Colin & Co at Brum's annual half marathon will be Richard and Jan Barley, from Marple, Greater Manchester, Dawn Rabone-Jones, of Kings Heath, Rachel Scheiber, from Bromsgrove, and Heather Thorp, of Redditch.
Starting on iconic New Street, the new-look route takes in popular Brum landmarks and suburbs like the Rotunda, Selfridges, Bournville, Cannon Hill Park, Edgbaston Stadium and Digbeth before finishing on Jennens Road, with Aston University campus hosting post-run refreshments.
Colin's Little Hearts Matter fundraising group started to take shape when he posted an appeal for half-marathon walkers on a closed Facebook forum for grandparents of children affected by the condition.
“Despite living in Scotland, Tanya was really keen to join in,” he said. “We won't meet her for the first time until the night before the half marathon but her efforts underline how grateful we are for Little Hearts Matter's magnificent support for our families, which starts right from diagnosis, either at the 20-week pregnancy mark, antenatally or after the child is born.”
Colin remembers all too vividly the earth-shattering moment Thomas was diagnosed: “Sally and her husband Spencer went to hospital excited to learn whether they'd be having a boy or a girl, only to return home desperately sad having been told by the obstetrician not all the baby's heart was visible and they'd be referred to a specialist to ‘see if the baby is viable'.
“Parents are racked with worry for the remainder of the pregnancy as there's only a 50/50 chance the child will survive the first operation, which usually takes place within three days of the birth. As they are born with only one pump instead of two, the single pump would wear out without immediate intervention.
“Can you can imagine what it's like for parents, watching their tiny new-born child go through that?
“Thomas scared us to death during the first six months of his life due to the different surgical procedures he had to go through.
“I'll never forget running from Birmingham Children's Hospital to Birmingham New Street Station, with tears streaming down my face, to swap childminding duties with Christine, who was looking after Thomas' older brother Joseph, so she could see Thomas before it was too late.
“Miraculously, he pulled through, which is down to the magnificent staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital. Thomas is now a healthy 15-year-old lad with his sights set on a career in IT.”
Colin added: “Little Hearts Matter helped Sally and Spencer right from the start. The charity holds an open day each year, usually in Birmingham, which Sally attended with Christine. Seeing children playing and having fun, who had survived the operation she knew Thomas would have, filled Sally with hope.
“That's what Little Hearts Matter does – gives hope. They receive no government funding and rely on families to raise money to keep the charity afloat.
“They also lobby Westminster and do educational work at hospitals and schools, where children with half a heart can sometimes feel left out. The condition is strength-sapping and they can't do PE. The only exercise they can do is walking, swimming and cycling.”
This won't be Colin's first appearance at the Great Birmingham Run, having worn an eye-catching outfit on his half marathon debut two years ago! He got into running not only to support Little Hearts Matter but also to lose weight, with a combination of exercise and an improved diet seeing him shed a whopping 4st 6lbs.
“I only took up running at 72 and did my first and only half marathon in 2017 as part of a mixed group all wearing tutus!” he added.
“We plodded around for three-and-a-half hours, enjoying the atmosphere, and raised over £9,000.”
Little Hearts Matter is just one of the many worthwhile causes that will benefit from the hundreds of thousands of pounds that will be raised by runners, joggers and walkers of all abilities at the Great Birmingham Run.
The half marathon also features the ENGIE Business Challenge, which pits work teams against each other for fastest-time trophies and bragging rights in the corporate world.
To enter the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham Run click here
Anyone who took part in the Simplyhealth Great Birmingham 10k in May will automatically receive a £10 discount off their entry to the half marathon when using the same log in details to register.
To sponsor Colin and his Little Hearts Matter fundraising group: justgiving.com/fundraising/abunchofoldf-hearts