Tandem charity challenge for parents of daughter born premature

A couple from Surrey are gearing up to ride 55 miles on a tandem bike for a Guildford-based hospital charity.

Bridget and John Walton will be taking part in the iconic London to Brighton Cycle Ride on 15 September to raise money for Royal Surrey County Hospital Charity’s Closer to Care campaign.

The £500,000 appeal aims to deliver a new Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at the hospital, for babies who are born premature or sick. The redeveloped unit will provide new parents the opportunity to stay overnight, next to their newborn’s cot – something which is not currently possible at many neonatal units due to limited space and resource.

Bridget and John chose to take on the challenge for the charity after their daughter Zoe was born 11 weeks premature by emergency caesarean in 2016, when Bridget developed pre-eclampsia and then eclampsia – a rare but serious condition where high blood pressure can result in seizures in pregnancy. Following two weeks in the neonatal ward at St. Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Zoe was transferred to Royal Surrey’s SCBU, where she received care for the next eight weeks.

Bridget said:

“The hospitals and staff involved with her birth and first three months were incredible, and to see Zoe today, weighing 12 kilos, and being a cheeky, smiley, active, very sociable and easy-going girl is the most wonderful thing. John and I felt very strongly that we wanted to do something to show our huge gratitude.”

The couple has already raised over £5,100 for the project – and they plan to raise a total of £12,000, part of which will fund comfortable chairs for the unit that convert to beds so that parents can stay overnight with their babies. There are a range of benefits for both babies and their families when parents are close by and more involved in their newborn’s care, including improved long-term health outcomes, enhanced bonding, increased parental confidence, reduced stress, reduced hospital stays, and increased breastfeeding rates.

Tandem charity challenge for parents of daughter born premature
Bridget and John’s daughter, Zoe, age 3, wearing her ‘SCBU graduate’ T-shirt

Bridget added:

“Having the option to stay with Zoe would have taken away a lot of the stress, I was advised not to drive for four weeks due to my caesarean and so after I was discharged, I had to rely on others being able to take me to and pick me up from the hospital. Luckily, John was able to drop me at the hospital on his way to work each day.

“Being away from Zoe at night was the hardest thing, I cried so much as all I wanted was to be with her. I never wanted to let her go. Not being with her at night made breastfeeding more difficult too, because I had to express through the night without her close by. That’s why this campaign is so important – from the time we spent in SCBU, we know how much difference comfortable chairs/beds will make to the families and the babies being cared for.”

Bridget and John have spent six months training for the race, which starts at Clapham Common and finishes on Brighton seafront, and Zoe will hopefully join her parents to ride the last mile.

Bridget concluded:

“Riding a tandem is going to be a challenge – I’m not the greatest cyclist and I can’t see where I am going!”

Royal Surrey County Hospital Charity still has charity places available for this year’s London to Brighton Cycle Ride and is encouraging others to sign up to support premature or sick babies treated at the hospital.

Analiese Doctrove, Head of Fundraising for Royal Surrey County Hospital Charity, said:

“We are so grateful to Bridget and John for taking on this challenge and to everyone who has so generously supported them.

“We have a limited number of charity places available for the cycle ride – why not take on a challenge and help transform care for some of our most vulnerable patients and their families?”

To donate to Closer to Care, visit www.rschcharity.org.uk/closertocare. To sign up for a place in the cycle ride, visit www.rschcharity.org.uk/events or call the charity on 01483 464146.