Battle to Bruges: Stuart’s 16 hour cycling challenge

04 August 2020

Theodore had open heart surgery at Evelina London to treat a life-threatening congenital heart defect at just eleven months old. To say thank you Theodore’s dad, Stuart, cycled for 155 miles from Battle to Bruges with three friends to raise over £1,700 for Evelina London.
A line of people in Support Evelina clothing, with bikes in front of a castle courtyard
Stuart and Rebecca, with Theodore and his twin sister, and their friends and family

Theodore’s story

Theodore and his twin sister, Elise, were born three months early at their local hospital in East Sussex. But Theodore came under the care of Evelina London after he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at just five weeks old.

‘Getting the news that your child has a congenital heart defect that could lead to death if untreated was terrifying,’ says his mum, Rebecca.

Theodore was monitored for ten months before he came to Evelina London for open heart surgery. Although Theodore’s surgery was successful, he developed a leak in his lymphatic system that filled his chest with lymph, a bodily fluid that should have been going back to his heart.

‘Theodore was already quite small, but there were four weeks where he was just getting thinner and thinner because he wasn’t able to eat,’ says Rebecca.

In the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), Theodore had so many lines connected to him that he had to stay on his back in one position so that the tubes wouldn’t get tangled.

But the nurses looking after him were determined to keep him as happy and comfortable as possible. They sourced a CD player and set up a projector onto one of the blinds so that his parents, Rebecca and Stuart, could play cartoons, music and storybooks for him.

‘The whole team went out of their way to make him feel better. They treated him as an individual and when he needed something very specific, they got it for him. It was really quite moving to see,’ says Rebecca.

Thankfully, after a second surgery the lymph drainage was corrected and Theodore was able to go home just after his first birthday.

‘We’ve been really fortunate. He’s not on any medication and is completely asymptomatic. If you saw his scars, you’d know he’d had surgery. But from a normal, everyday point of view he is entirely unaffected,’ says Rebecca

‘It’s really reassuring to be able to watch a very happy three-year-old run around and know that thanks to this surgery he can live life like his sister can.’

‘He’s a very active little boy. You would not know any different. If anything, he’s the more energetic twin!’

Rebecca and Stuart knew they wanted to give back as a thank you to Evelina London’s cardiology services for saving their son’s life.

‘We are so grateful for Evelina London’s support. The only way we feel we can really express our gratitude is to try and raise money that will help other people who are going through the same thing,’ says Stuart.

Stuart’s cycle raised over £1,700 for The Cardiology Kids, a group of 150 families who aim to raise £150,000 to say thank you for their treatment at Evelina London’s cardiology ward.

Battling to Bruges

Stuart knew cycling 155 miles after an extended period spent in hospital wards was going to be difficult. But, if anything, this just made him even more determined.

‘To be honest, the physical aspect appealed to me,’ says Stuart, ‘I like cycling and have put on quite a lot of weight – sitting around eating in hospital wards doesn’t help with the waistline!’

Stuart managed to recruit three friends to cycle to Bruges with him.

Setting such a daunting challenge paid off. Fellow cyclist Paul’s mum and dad drove around in a car with balloons to help draw a crowd of supporters to cheer on the four cyclists as they set off on their 16-hour cycle to Bruges.

After cycling hard, they reached the English coast by night fall and, after stopping overnight in Dover, caught one of the first ferries across the Channel the next morning.

On day two of their journey, Stuart and his cycling companions had to battle through torrential rain and bouts of motion sickness.

‘Paul got very seasick on the ferry,’ Stuart explains. ‘But there was no time for it to settle before we were off again, so Paul was as sick as a dog the whole way to Bruges. He was probably one of the fittest guys in the group, but he was the slowest on day two. It became a real slog for him, but he refused to give up.’

‘It’s surprising what motivates you to keep going when people have donated money and you’ve committed to a challenge,’ adds Rebecca.

After 16 hours of hard cycling the four men finally arrived in Bruges, soaking wet but triumphant that they had completed their challenge.

‘It was a long time in the saddle, but it was good to share it with some guys and have fun with it,’ says Stuart.

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