Published on 20 August 2020
A dad is planning to walk the 33 miles from Pembury to Ashford to raise money for the hospital that saved his newborn baby’s life.
Mark Batley’s ten-hour journey will follow the route of his son Thomas’s first ambulance ride, from Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury to the William Harvey, where he was transferred after being born 14 weeks early.
He is hoping to raise £2,500 for East Kent Hospitals Charity’s Tiny Toes appeal, supporting the neonatal intensive care unit where Thomas was cared for, and said simply saying thank you did not seem enough.
Mark said: “I always have good intentions but I don’t usually do anything with them.
“This is so big that we couldn’t just say thank you, so I wanted to raise a bit of money to give something back to the hospital that saved Thomas’s life.”
The tot weighed just 1lb 13oz when he was born on 29 February, and spent three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Ashford hospital before he could be transferred back to Tunbridge Wells Hospital. He was eventually discharged after almost three months in hospital and is now a happy and healthy six month old.
Mark, whose brother will join him for the fundraising walk, said it had been a hugely worrying time for him and wife Justine, both 37.
He said: “We had no warning that Thomas would be born early – everything was just normal.
“Justine is a swimming teacher and she had been in the pool that day and when she got home she said she’d had some Braxton Hicks, or practice contractions.
“I went to the gym as planned because neither of us was worried, but after about 10 minutes she called to say she’d spoken to the hospital and they’d asked her to come in.
“When we got there and they said they thought she was in labour, I started frantically looking on the internet because we hadn’t done any research on premature births.”
Medics hoped to delay the birth to give Thomas more time in the womb and a better chance of survival, but when Mark stepped out to call his parents and let them know what was happening, his son was born.
He said: “He was born within the hour of Justine experiencing some discomfort. It was just mad.
“There was a whole team of doctors and nurses at Tunbridge Wells Hospital looking after him from the moment he was born before he was transferred to the William Harvey Hospital, which is a specialist neonatal centre that cares for babies born as early as Thomas was.
“I found it really hard to look at him to begin with because he looked like a piece of meat in a bag, but the staff were just fantastic.”
The couple made the journey from their home near Tunbridge Wells Hospital to the William Harvey every day to see their son, even as the country began to lock down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mark said: “For the first two days our parents were able to visit, then it was just us, then one person at a time.
“It was hard but there was a certain peace in knowing Thomas was exposed to so few people.
“One doctor told us if he developed the virus he would have no chance of beating it so it was a huge concern, particularly when the news was full of how many people were dying from it.”
Staff at both hospitals used video messaging to keep the couple informed about how their son was doing.
Mark said: “The staff at both hospitals have been absolutely wonderful and cared for Thomas as if he was their own.
“We are so grateful for all their care and we will never be able to adequately thank them for everything they have done.
“But I hope raising money will go some way to saying thank you.”
The walk is planned for the end of September. To donate, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mark-batley1