Father and son trek together for Evelina London

22 October 2019

As a newborn baby, Benjamin had tests at Evelina London for a suspected congenital heart defect. Thankfully he didn’t have the condition, but his dad, Richard, was deeply affected by the other families he met whose outcomes were not so fortunate.

Father with his young toddler son, on his back, in the outdoors on a hilly field on top of a peak
Richard, with son Benjamin during their five-day trek

To raise money and awareness for Evelina London, Richard decided to take on an epic five-day trekking adventure with one-year-old Benjamin riding on his back. And what an adventure it was!

Benjamin’s story

When Naomi, Benjamin’s mum, became pregnant there were concerns the baby may develop a congenital heart defect. Naomi’s family have a history of the condition, so it was vital that tests were carried out.

Tests that were done during Naomi’s pregnancy came back with inconclusive results, so it was decided that the baby would be tested at Evelina London for the condition as soon as he was born.

Benjamin was born on 4 July 2018 at St Thomas’ Hospital, which is co-located with Evelina London and enables specialist care to be provided to the whole family. He was taken to Evelina London for tests immediately, which happily gave clear results.

It had not gone unnoticed to Richard, however, that other families at the hospital going through tough times were not as lucky as them.

‘We had a blessedly short experience at Evelina London and were treated with great care and attention throughout,’ he says. ‘Knowing how it felt to be able to go home with Benjamin in full health, I couldn't just leave without doing something to try and support all the parents and children who don't get to walk away so quickly. I also wanted to thank all the staff who give their time, expertise and emotional support so willingly.’

Benjamin and Richard’s challenge

It was decided that son and dad, Benjamin and Richard, would take on the Cumbria Way, a 73-mile trek through the heart of the Lake District. They planned to complete it in six days, camping along the route.

They set off together in early August, with Richard doing the trekking and Benjamin – also affectionately known as a ‘Tasmanian devil in dungarees’ - taking on the gruelling task of riding on his back!

Along with his kit and Benjamin, Richard carried up to 30 kilograms whilst hiking an average of 25 kilometres a day. Together they braved steep climbs and stormy weather, but Richard says it wasn’t the trek itself that was the biggest challenge.

‘What took me a little by surprise was that, in the end, the walking was the easy bit,’ he says. ‘Benjamin was content in the backpack. It was when we stopped that the fun began!

On several occasions, I was exhaustedly but frantically chasing him round a pub or café. Once he was out of the carrier he - quite understandably - wanted to burn some energy and explore; the intrepidness we've tried to foster in him began to backfire!

‘Stopping in fields was also taxing. Benjamin loves water and would constantly try to get into anything from large puddles and streams to rivers and lakes. He also has a joyful fascination with sheep, which extends to gleefully wringing enormous oozy turds between his hands and even trying to eat the drier ones!’

Thankfully Richard had other snacks to keep them both going and they completed the trek in five days rather than the planned six, to avoid further storms. They smashed their fundraising target with a total of £1,638 raised for Evelina London.

Richard, with Benjamin on his shoulders during their trek
Richard, with Benjamin on his shoulders during their trek

Raising money and bringing awareness

‘Whilst I'm aware our contribution is not going to change things overnight for people we saw, I'm hoping every little helps,’ says Richard. ‘I also hope that publicising our challenge means the good work of Evelina London is known to more people who may, in turn, want to do something.’

Richard was also touched to hear more stories from others about the hospital throughout his efforts.

‘One thing I was not expecting, but cherished, was the number of people who opened up to me about experiences they had of Evelina London. At least 15 people shared very personal stories with me, which really helped strengthen my resolve and determination.’

Richard’s determination is so strong that he plans to take on a new fundraising challenge every year with Benjamin.

‘Since our experience, we have had other friends go through Evelina London’s care and seen again the life-changing work that is done,’ he says. ‘I hope that doing something regularly for the hospital helps to teach Benjamin about showing gratitude, doing things for other people and worthwhile causes.’

Do you have a creative idea that could help raise money for the hospital? It could be anything! Sign up to Challenge 150 and fundraise for Evelina London in its 150th birthday year, just like Benjamin and Richard did.

What will you Challenge 150 be?