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Running for Premature Babies

Sophie with Jasper at 53 days.

BY SOPHIE SMITH

In 2006 my husband Ash and I were amazed and delighted to become pregnant with triplets. However our hopes and dreams for our instant family were dashed when my waters broke, just 21 weeks into the pregnancy.

Five days later, our first son Henry was born, so beautiful and perfect and looking just like Ash. He gave a tiny cry and was laid on my chest where, for one precious hour, I held him and felt his heart beating against mine. His tiny hands squeezed onto our fingers and then, an hour after he was born, he passed away.

Incredibly Henry’s siblings didn’t follow their brother into the world that day. As intervention isn’t given to babies born before 24 weeks, we had a long way to go. But as the days passed our hopes grew.

At 24 ½ weeks, after three weeks of bed rest in hospital, my waters broke once again and Jasper and Evan were born by emergency caesarean. They were immediately incubated and transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Hospital for Women.

Weighing less than a kilo each, my boys had a long fight ahead. However, babies this small had survived before and we were optimistic.

The first few days were promising. Both boys were taking my expressed breast milk through tubes into their stomachs. We spent every day sitting by their humidicribs marvelling at how beautiful they were and falling in love with them.

But when our babies were ten days old we rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night as Evan had taken ill. We sat with him through the night and in the morning learned that he had suffered a severe brain haemorrhage. Heartbroken, we had no choice but to remove him from his life support.

This was the first time Ash and I had held Evan. We told him how much we loved him, kissed him and he slipped away while he was in my arms.

Over the next few weeks Jasper began to grow stronger. Amidst the worry and sadness of this time, we also have some beautiful and happy memories of our time with him. There was the amazing day that he opened his eyes for the first time, the handful of times we were allowed to take him out of his crib for a cuddle, and the time I gave him one precious breastfeed.But, like many such premature babies, our baby had chronic lung disease. Jasper’s lungs kept collapsing and many times over the next few weeks we came close to losing him. However each time he amazed his doctors and fought on.

At 58 days old Jasper’s lungs collapsed again, but this time he could not be revived. Once again we took our baby out of his crib, and held him while he passed away.

The days and weeks following Jasper’s death were terribly hard. When I should have been run off my feet looking after three tiny babies, I instead was facing maternity leave with empty arms. Ash and I talked about them all the time, and about the incredible love that they had brought into our lives. We were determined that they would never be forgotten and that something good would come from their lives.

Even though my babies weren’t here any more I was still their mum.  It was up to me to make sure their lives mattered and had meant something.  That’s when Ash suggested I run the SMH Half Marathon in their memory and raise some money for the RHW to buy a new humidicrib in their memory.  Over the next few months things began to snowball and Henry, Jasper and Evan’s legacy was born…

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Nine months to the day since Evan and Jasper were born, and six months after Jasper died, I ran my first SMH Half Marathon with a team of 98 people! Together we raised $80,000 for four new humidicribs. With the help of the Royal Hospital for Women Foundation we set up the Henry, Jasper & Evan Smith Trust Fund, to provide life-saving equipment for critically ill premature babies in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women.

Last year’s team

Each year since then I have organised a ‘Running for Premature Babies’ team to train and run the SMH Half Marathon to raise funds for my boys’ Trust Fund.  Each year our team grows bigger and bigger!  In the 6 years since they left us, over 1,100 people have run with me and over $750,000 has been raised in their memory. This has bought ten humidicribs, ten neo-natal monitors, and three high frequency ventilators, which are saving the lives of hundreds of premature babies just like mine.

Each year I am blown away by the incredible support and generosity of many, from our partners Running Bare and Tommee Tippee, to the many who give up their time and expertise to make our team so successful.  We have an an exercise physiologist, Mandi O’Sullivan-Jones, who provides 5 months of free professional training in Centennial Park, experienced runners who lead weekly interval training, a professional photographer, Jesse Taylor, and a volunteer committee who help me.   The Coogee Legions Club offer us their venue for social events such as team bonding nights, a pre-race carbo-loading dinner and a post-race party.

Each year I am also humbled by the amazing people who join my team –  The camaraderie, from the fastest, most able runner, to the slowest is truly inspiring and has to be experienced to be believed. Many run to remember their own babies they’ve lost to prematurity, illness or stillbirth, and others run in memory of nieces, nephews, godchildren, cousins, friends and siblings. Wonderfully some run to celebrate the lives of their children who’ve survived prematurity; Ash and I are so comforted by the fact that we now have people running on our team whose babies were kept alive using the equipment we’ve bought.  Last year we also had runners who were themselves born prematurely, like Ariarna, now 28, born at 24 weeks. She joined to give hope to parents of premature babies and show that anything’s possible.

Then there are the hundreds of people on my team who have no link whatsoever to prematurity, or neo-natal loss.  Many people tell me they would never have considered doing something so crazy as to run 21.1km, but are so moved by the story of my three brave babies, they feel compelled to give it a go!

People lose weight, get fit, make friends and together raise a phenomenal amount of money. All because of three little boys, not much bigger than your hand, who lived for the briefest of moments but whose spirit continues to shine.

If you’d like to make a donation, go here.

This year is set to be our biggest ever with a goal of reaching $1 million raised in memory of Henry, Jasper and Evan. To do this I need to find over 400 runners and together we need to raise $250,000!    If you’d like to join my team please visit www.runningforprematurebabies.com

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