DONCASTER dad, Carl Birks, is taking on a frosty fundraising challenge for Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust’s ambulance service, Embrace, to say thank you for the care his daughter Felicity received when she was a baby.
Carl’s chilly challenge is having an ice bath in a chest freezer every day for 116 days in a row in his back garden.
“I decided to fundraise for Embrace because of my daughter Felicity. She was born at Doncaster Royal Infirmary at 29 weeks, premature, with a rare condition called Hydrops Fetalis.
“The doctors gave her a 5% chance of survival.”
Hydrops Fetalis is a condition in the fetus that is characterised by an accumulation of fluid. When Felicity was born, she had a lot of fluid on her belly and around her head. After she was delivered by an emergency caesarian, they had to drain fluid from around her lungs and subsequently, had to resuscitate her.
She urgently needed to be transported to Sheffield by Embrace for specialist neonatal care. With mum, Charlie, still recovering from surgery, Carl had no choice but to leave his wife there in Doncaster and go with Felicity and the Embrace team.
Embrace is Sheffield Children’s highly specialist, round-the-clock transport service for critically ill infants and children in Yorkshire and the Humber who require care in another hospital in the region or further afield.
“Embrace got her in the ambulance and made sure she was OK, then they made sure I was OK.
“I was a bit all over the place but they sat me down in the back of the ambulance, made sure I had something to eat, something to drink, spoke to me and made sure that I was aware that I’m not going to be any good to look after Felicity if I was all over the place and not looking after myself.
“They put me at ease a bit more and that really stuck with me. Now she’s all right, I want to try and do my bit to help raise as much money as I can.”
Felicity was cared for at The Jessop Wing, part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust until she was stable enough to be moved to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, as she needed multiple surgeries.
“She had multiple surgeries on her stomach; they found a blockage in her first week and a perforation, and then they had to go back in after that to fix something else. She really went through it, bless her, but they looked after her at Sheffield Children’s Hospital until she came home.
“We have three boys already but no one explains the possibilities of what might happen if your baby comes early or there are problems; it just sort of hits you and you don’t know what to do.
“We didn’t really have time to feel a lot. There were a lot of nerves, a lot of scariness when you get taken into rooms and you get told that she might not make it and there’s a good chance she might not make it; that happened a few times but she just carried on fighting.”
Carl and Felicity’s experience with Embrace and Sheffield Children’s has inspired him to do his unique fundraiser.
“116 days is the amount of time that Felicity spent in hospital altogether.
“It’s easier when you’re in the ice bath but it’s harder to get yourself in there because the feeling never goes away; it still takes your breath away, you’ve still got to try and not panic, but when you’re in there it’s OK.
“I’ve stayed in for 7 minutes but it varies depending on how you’re feeling. I keep setting myself a challenge to go further because I like a challenge. If I just do 5 minutes over and over again then I can do that easily and it stops being a challenge, so I feel like I have to keep pushing. I’m going to try to get to 11 minutes I think, but I don’t really want to do anymore because they say that’s not safe and can cause problems – obviously, I don’t want that.”
Carl’s family and friends have been really supportive of the challenge, with some even getting involved themselves. At each fundraising milestone, he’s having a ‘special guest’ take part.
“My next-door neighbour got in the ice bath when I hit £150. I’ve got someone else at £400 and £500, so hopefully we can get to that amount! Everyone’s been really good, sharing it and talking about it.
“I’m hoping to raise £1,000, but the sky’s the limit really.”
Not only has Carl’s experience inspired him to do the fundraiser, but it’s also encouraged him to go back into education and take a new career path.
“I’m just coming towards the end of my Access to Higher Education course at Doncaster College where I’ve studied for a Level 3 Diploma in Health Science, and I’m going to the University of Bradford in September to study Paramedic Science.
“I’m hoping to become a paramedic and give a little bit more back. And make an impact on people like they did for me.
“People should donate because it’s absolutely fantastic what they do. The amount of children that they look after is absolutely unreal and they need the support to be able to carry on doing that.
“It’s a really worthwhile cause, you get to have a laugh at me while I’m doing it and if I’m not funny enough, there are plenty of other people that you can have a laugh at that are going to have a go and we just want to raise as much as we possibly can.”
Jo Whiston, Lead Nurse at Embrace, said:
“It is lovely to hear such positive feedback to share with the team. We recognise that it can be a challenging time for the families of the infants and children who require transferring and it’s important to us that they are supported.
“We have developed parent packs which we provide to families containing all the essentials a family may need in those first few hours away from home, such as food, drink and toiletries. We are able to provide the packs with support from The Children’s Hospital Charity, so Carl’s fundraising will go towards the ongoing provision of these packs along with transport equipment and training of the specialised team.
“Thank you so much Carl for your effort and good luck.”
Please visit JustGiving to support Carl.
To find out more about The Children’s Hospital Charity and how you can take on your own fundraising challenge, please visit: tchc.org.uk.