Little Jacob Kirk died two days before his first birthday, however his doting parents have spent the last ten months since his tragic death raising thousands for charity.
“It’s been hard,” said mum Carolyn Herdman. “Especially at this time of year, coming up to Christmas.”
This time last year Carolyn and Jacob’s dad Michael Kirk finally had Jacob home from hospital and were able to celebrate their first Christmas together.
However, the pair have worked hard since January when Jacob died raising an amazing £19,000 for both Downs and Proud and the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Jacob was born via emergency cesarean section and with Downs Syndrome on January 30 last year, however, he spent much of his only year on earth in and out of hospital.
“His wee lungs were always going to be difficult for him,” Carolyn explained.
Jacob spent a total of seven weeks in hospital in Belfast and Craigavon, but it was still touch and go for the little baby who was so small that Michael was able to take a ring from his finger and put it round his son’s wrist. It was a week before Carolyn was able to hold her baby for the first time - on her 30th birthday. “It was the best birthday present that I ever had,” she says. “It was fantastic.”
“He had five admissions to the PICU and each time had to be incubated and hooked up to a life support machine,” she said.
However two days before his first birthday, little Jacob lost his battle for life and died on January 28 this year.
“It’s been very hard this time of year. We had him home for Christmas,” said his mum.
Though she organised Santa to visit little Jacob at home as he was too unwell and prone to infection to go and see him.
Since his death and despite their grief Carolyn and Michael have thrown themselves into fundraising and through a variety of events.
And just last week donated £10k to the Lurgan based charity Downs and Proud as well as spending part of the funds raised on a special day out for the children of Downs and Proud.
“We organised for the children and their families to go to see Santa Claus at his grotto in Aghalee,” she explained.
Carolyn, who is from Blackskull, organised a major fundraising event in Banbridge Rugby Club in June which collected £8,000.
Carolyn, was also part of a relay team that completed the Belfast Marathon this year and was helped by Stephen Gibson, Sarah Holding, Ciara Doyle and Cheryl Carson.
She also had baskets at her work in Cafe Vicryn in Lisburn which raised a lot of cash and a Just Giving page which raised £2k.
But even after his death, Jacob’s story has reached new heights - literally - as a balloon with a note about him and which had been released in his memory travelled 700km to France where it was found by a young family who have now forged a bond with the baby’s parents
David and Soizic Cuisnier, who live on an island in Brittany, found a balloon which read ‘Miss You’ and released at young Jacob’s graveside in Banbridge, a day after his funeral.
Both families, have since formed an unbreakable bond. Carolyn has been in contact with the French family via Facebook sending pictures and stories of her little boy.
“Everyone was so good to us and the care that Jacob received was second to none,” she said, “Nothing was ever going to fix him. We wanted to give something back.
“The care and the help and support we could never repay them so in a way this is just a thank you for everything that they had done for us. The staff at the Royal could not have done enough for us. I will never forget that.”
In total the couple raised £10k for Downs and Proud, spent £650 on a special party and visit to Santa for the members of that charity and donated £8k to the PICU at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.