Grateful Flintshire dad’s pedal power raises cash for charities

Reporter:

Claire Gallagher

A MAN whose premature daughter died at just four months old has raised money for four different charities in her memory.

Colin Down raised more than £5,000 by making a bike ride across Wales in memory of his daughter, Mara Froukje Down, who died at just one month old.

Mara’s twin sister, Elisabeth Renske Down, pulled through and both Colin and partner Sabine Hoekema, of Mold, wanted a way of thanking everyone who helped them during the difficult time.

The cycle challenge was taken on by Colin and his friends Russell Baker, Gareth Mather and Connor McIlwrath and encompassed a 180-mile route between Aberystwyth and Prestatyn.

Funds were split between Wrexham Maelor special care baby unit, Cherish Wrexham, the Imagine Appeal and Ronald McDonald House, both at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Sabine went into labour in May last year after only 22 weeks and five days later the twin girls were born.

With Elisabeth weighing just 1lb 4.5oz and Mara 1lb 6.5oz, Sabine and Colin had no idea whether the girls would survive.

Speaking about the girls’ time in the special care baby unit, Colin said: “It was a strangely deflating experience.

“Mara and Elisabeth had survived their birth but we hardly had time to see them and couldn’t event touch them before they were taken away.

“It was quite daunting to see them inside the incubators, on ventilation, stuck with various needles and attached to a number of monitors. But they were alive.

“Over the weeks we got to know the staff really well and the friendly family atmosphere really helped.”

He added: “We were told it would be a rollercoaster ride of emotions and they weren’t wrong.

“Keeping them alive was a precarious balancing act overshadowed by the ever present threat of infection.”

Sadly Mara was later diagnosed with a bowel disorder following frequent bouts of infection and despite her undergoing an operation at Alder Hey, Colin and Sabine had to make the heart wrenching decision to let her go.

Colin continued: “Although Mara lived for only four short weeks she made a huge impact on our lives and we will always miss her.

“That same evening Sabine got to hold Elisabeth for the first time.

“It was a bitter sweet day.”

Elisabeth stayed on the unit for 17 weeks and during that time it was discovered she had developed a condition called hydrocephalus, which means water on the brain.

The treatment required brain surgery at Alder Hey and the parents were able to use a room at Ronald McDonald House, a free hostel at the hospital where family members can stay.

Elisabeth bounced back from surgery well but a few days later another problem was discovered which needed corrective surgery.

Colin added: “Since that time Elisabeth has come on remarkably well. She is a wonderfully active little girl who has astounded all the medical professionals with
her progress. And long may it continue.

“Sabine and I cannot thank everyone involved enough for all the help and support we have received. Our friends and family, work colleagues and the medical staff were all wonderful.

“Without them we wouldn’t have made it through and we wouldn’t have such a beautiful little daughter.”

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