A devoted dad and his friend’s eye-catching creation survived an epic 2,500-mile fund-raising drive across eight countries in memory of his baby.
Blyth resident Gareth Wood and Mark Wheatley successfully completed the five-day 2018 Screwball Rally challenge in their ‘£350 Banger Batmobile’ on Monday and more than £1,000 has been raised so far for The Sick Children’s Trust.
The charity had provided him with free Home from Home accommodation at its Crawford House in Newcastle last year while doctors fought for his son’s life at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI).
Lewis James Wood was delivered by caesarean at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital on December 6.
Within minutes of being placed in his mum Tracy’s arms, he turned blue and began to experience severe breathing difficulties.
Unsure what was wrong with him, doctors made an immediate decision to transfer the newborn to the paediatric intensive care unit at the RVI.
Sadly, his condition was too severe and despite the specialists’ best efforts, Lewis died just four days later.
Gareth, a 35-year-old railway worker, said: “Throughout the pregnancy we were completely unaware that something was wrong with our baby because in all the scans he appeared healthy.
“We were in absolute shock when Lewis was born to see him so poorly.
“At the RVI, the doctors discovered that Lewis’ chest organs had failed to develop properly. He was completely missing his left lung, had serious problems with his heart and had severe tracheal stenosis causing obstruction to his airway.
“Our heads were all over the place. He had looked healthy at first.
“I knew I wanted to give something back to The Sick Children’s Trust because the charity allowed me to spend every possible second I could with my son.
“He will never be forgotten and we’re so grateful for the time we got to spend with him.
“Me and Mark are car enthusiasts and so when he agreed to join me in doing a fund-raising challenge, we felt the Screwball Rally fitted us ideally.
“We bought a convertible Peugeot and both worked on it to create our ‘Batmobile’, which got a lot of attention during the drive.
“We had some mechanical gremlins on the first two days, but we carried out repairs when we got to Poland and the car was fine for the rest of the journey.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic that we’ve completed the challenge and raised so much for an excellent cause.
“Thanks to all those who donated and our friends and family for their support.”
The Screwball Rally started in Dover and as well as England and Poland, the ride went through parts of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic.
All of the participants stay in campsites arranged by the organisers.
On Monday, Gareth and Mark reached the finish in Calais and got the 2.30pm ferry to England. But as with the journey to the start, there was still another 400 miles to get home and this took another six hours from Dover.
Of the specific support from The Sick Children’s Trust, Gareth, who lives in South Beach, said: “As Tracy was transferred to the RVI, she had a bed on the postnatal ward, but it was gone midnight when we arrived and I had nowhere to sleep.
“Thankfully, the nurses told me about Crawford House and that it was a Home from Home run by The Sick Children’s Trust – I was told I could stay as long as I needed to, totally free of charge.
“I couldn’t believe that such a place even existed. It was the first I’d heard of the charity and was exactly what I needed.
“The facilities were amazing and the staff in the house knew just how to support me and, most importantly, it meant I was never more than a couple of minutes from my baby’s side.”
To make a donation, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/gaz-n-wheatza