With less than 4 days until the 2017 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon, one local dad is encouraging runners across Northern Ireland to support learning disability charity Mencap NI, the official charity partner of the race.
Jonny Collins is the father of Noah (age 3) who attended the Mencap Children’s Centre for 2-to 4-year-olds with a learning disability, autism or developmental delay.
Noah was born a healthy, happy baby but when he was 9 months old Jonny’s wife, Rachael, started to notice Noah was getting top heavy and his legs were buckling when he tried to stand. After a scare that landed Noah in the hospital a week before his first birthday, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
“When Noah was diagnosed it was terrible, no one knew what was wrong with him at first,” Jonny said. “It was such a shock as suddenly our healthy child was being rushed to hospital in an ambulance. It is a night I will never forget. It was heart-breaking when they brought him into the theatre and I watched them cut his vest open.
“Noah was later diagnosed with Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy which means he lost the power to use his arms and legs. We spent six weeks in hospital with Noah and I had to put my business up for sale so I could become a stay-at-home dad for Noah. This put a lot of financial pressure on me and my wife and we felt very let down with the lack of help out there – when you are sent home from the hospital it’s left up to you and it can be very isolating.”
A specialist nurse at the hospital then recommended the Mencap Children’s Centre, which works in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. The Children’s Centre is at the heart of the Mencap Centre in South Belfast, which opened in March 2016. Following a referral, Noah received a place and started in October 2016.
“When Noah started at the Mencap Children’s Centre, he could only physically take milk through a feeding tube. Now he can eat all sorts of food and he can feed himself Wotsits, his absolute favourite. When he’s at Mencap, Noah has his meals and all of his therapies, and he gets to interact with other children and adults, which is just what he needs.
“Mencap has been our lottery win, it’s been our lifeline. The help we’ve received at Mencap has not only been able to build my son’s confidence but also my wife’s and my own confidence. Once we knew Noah was in safe hands and he was learning at Mencap, we felt we could get our lives back on track.
“I encourage anyone who is thinking of running in the half marathon to do it for Mencap. The staff and the friends we have made in Mencap have made all the difference in our lives and all donations will help families that need support.”
More than 1,000 runners took to the streets in aid of Mencap at last year’s half marathon and Mencap is expecting to see even more log the miles at this year’s race on Sunday 17thSeptember. Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap Northern Ireland, added:
“We would like to thank Noah and Jonny for sharing their story. There are so many families who have a similar story and need support, which is why we are encouraging any runners taking on the half marathon to do so in aid of Mencap. Funds raised by your efforts will support the Mencap Children’s Centre and our new family support programme being developed to support parents across Northern Ireland. The initiative will provide bespoke guidance and courses to parents like Jonny who have a child diagnosed with a learning disability.
“We can’t wait to see all of the Mencap vests along the half marathon route! We’ll be cheering for everyone at the finish line.”
For more information about how you can support Mencap at the 2017 Deep RiverRock Belfast City Half Marathon, contact the Fundraising Team on 028 90 691 351, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit mencap.org.uk/belfasthalfmarathon. Registration has now closed for the event but there is still time to obtain a fundraising pack.