A bereaved mum whose baby daughter died after just 89 days is returning to fundraising to help mark what would have been her daughter’s tenth birthday. Leigh Smith became a tireless supporter of charities including East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) following the death of little Beatrice, or Bea, in February 2014.
She had been diagnosed with the rare heart condition restrictive cardiomyopathy, which affects just one in a million children. Leigh and then husband Toby went on to raise more than £60,000 for London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, in addition to vital funds for EACH and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
Highlights included a bike ride from the NNUH to Quidenham (EACH’s former Norfolk hospice) in the summer of 2014 and Leigh spoke at the launch of The Nook Appeal, where she met EACH’s Royal Patron, The Princess of Wales (then The Duchess of Cambridge).
She subsequently received correspondence from Her Royal Highness and met her again at the opening of The Nook, in November 2019.
“Bea would be ten on 28th November and a decade of her life feels a very significant milestone,” said Leigh, who is taking on EACH’s Pier 2 Pier walk, on 10th June. This year, after a break in any fundraising due to life events, Covid, divorce and having my youngest daughter, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to do something to mark her significant birthday, so signed up for the Pier 2 Pier walk.
“I love walking as it’s often when I think about Bea. It’s further than I’ve ever walked in one go and I know it will be hard, although it needs to be because my daughter fought hard and continues to inspire me.”
Leigh says she will forever be grateful to EACH for the care and support it offered during a “truly horrific time”.
“EACH has been incredible,” she said.
“It was first mentioned to us while Bea was still at Great Ormond Street, although it was becoming clear she was dying. We were initially reluctant to hear the words palliative care, because we knew what that meant. However, we couldn’t have been more wrong.
“After Bea passed away, EACH ensured all the arrangements were made for her to be brought back home to Norfolk and she stayed at Quidenham. She stayed in her own room, with her name on the door, looking as beautiful and peaceful as we could have hoped.
“We stayed overnight and were able to do a number of memory activities, hold her, allow friends and family to visit and say their goodbyes and know she was looked after in the days leading up to her funeral. It was a gift beyond words. That time to make memories in a positive and special way has aided my grieving process and, as strange as it sounds strange, I remember that time with warmth and love.
“Without EACH and its wonderful, compassionate staff, things could have been so different.”
Leigh lives with son Elliott, 12, daughter Ottilie, five, and dog Betsy in Norwich.
“Life can only be described as before Bea and after Bea,” she said.
“That period of time was a nightmare and took a long while to feel real. To be truthful, it still doesn’t, nine years on. What happened was the kind of thing you read about but not something that could happen to us – except it did.
“A lot of it feels like a blur, although I remember some moments with real clarity and they will stay with me forever. Life since Bea died has been equally tough.
“Her death and the difference in the way her dad and I grieved ultimately put a lot of strain on our marriage. Toby and myself grew apart and, despite going on to have Ottilie, in 2017, we separated and divorced in 2020.
“Despite the heartache, I still wouldn’t change things. Bea taught me so much and made me appreciate life more intensely. She inspired me and so many others and we’ve done so much in her name.
“She continues to have an impact, not least in terms of raising awareness of congenital heart disease and all the charities that played such an important part in her short but impactful life.”
To read Bea’s story, click here.
The annual Cromer to Great Yarmouth Pier 2 Pier walk is scheduled for 10th June. This fundraiser takes participants on a 32-mile walk along the beautiful Norfolk Coastal Path.
Pictures: Rob Dodsworth and EACH