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Dad to run marathon in memory of baby Tilly

30 March 2015

Fundraising

When Peter Newman runs the final miles of the Brighton Marathon on Sunday 12 April, he knows any physical discomfort will be nothing compared to the emotional agony of losing his first-born daughter, Tilly, in 2013.

Peter, 32, a PE and health and social care teacher at Basildon Academies, is doing the 26-miler to say thank you for the care and support he and wife Suzanne, 33, received at Southend Hospital. The money will go to the hospital's new fetal medicine unit and bereavement services.

Staff and youngsters at the Wickford Avenue school also pledged money raised from its charity week for the same cause - the total so far has topped £300, with Peter's Just Giving Page amassing £740 taking the overall total over the £1,000 mark.

Peter and Suzanne endured every parent-to-be's worst nightmare in September 2013 when a scan at 33 weeks into the pregnancy revealed there was no amniotic fluid around the baby. Doctors suspected a condition called infantile polycystic kidney disease, in which the kidneys grow at an abnormal rate at the expense of the heart and lungs.

A second scan the following day at Kings College London, came to the same sickening conclusion. The devastated couple were told there was little hope of the baby surviving the pregnancy.

Three weeks later, on October 4, at 5.39pm, Suzanne, a policy and engagement officer with Southend Council, supported by midwife Amanda Cushing, gave birth to little Tilly.

"She was born sleeping and she was just incredibly beautiful," says Peter simply.

The couple were provided with a 'cold cot' which enabled them to spend precious time and wake up with their daughter the following day. That morning both sets of grandparents also visited, and later that day she was blessed by a hospital chaplain.

"We needed that time to be able to sit down and talk to her, hold her, take photographs," says Peter. "It didn't take the pain away, but it brought us a bit of comfort, gave us memories of her."

Amanda also visited the couple in the post-natal days without Tilly, and, at the couple's request, the hospital made all the funeral arrangements.

The funeral was held at Southend Crematorium exactly a month after Tilly's birth. "As hard as running the marathon will be, it will be easy compared to giving the reading. It was very difficult," says Peter.

Within a few months, the couple, from Leigh, discovered to their joy that Suzanne was pregnant once more. However, happiness was laced with anxiety in case history repeated itself.

"We had lots of scans and a couple of extra ones when Suzanne couldn't feel much movement," says Peter. "Mr Singh [Mr Mandeep Singh, Southend Hospital's lead consultant in fetal medicine] was so kind - he would always scan the kidneys straight away which put our minds at rest.

"Everyone in the unit was fantastic - they looked after us so well and were completely supportive."

Happily, the couple's daughter Sophia, was born without complications in January and is thriving. As both parents have discovered they carry a recessive gene for polycystic kidney disease, there is a small chance that the might develop in early childhood, but the couple remain hopeful.

Sophia's proud father is aiming to complete the April 12 marathon in four-and-a-half. He has the best motivation. "Tilly is part our lives every day and is forever in our thoughts," he says.

School lends its support

Peter's fundraising was backed by the school, which held an inventive charity week, incorporating such events as PlayStation parties, Malteser Football, X Box Challenge, a mini marathon, a cake sale, a hapless teacher having his nails painted, a head shave and a 'Rap Battle' between two teachers.

"I have been overwhelmed by how many students have got involved and how much money a few main events have raised," said Laura Chapman, head of year 11 and the student voice team. "The hard work has been worth every second and we hope to run a bigger and better charity week next year."