Special award for Mum who’s always remembering Rebecca

March 10th, 2016

Teesside mum Gemma Sands, who lost her daughter to a rare brain condition, has been recognised with an award for her charitable work on behalf of other local families whose children suffer from similar neurological issues.

When 21-month-old Rebecca died from Lissencaphaly in August 2010, parents Gemma and Mike set up Remembering Rebecca, a charity to raise awareness of the condition and other neurological diseases.

They have now raised nearly £200,000 over the past five-and-a-half years to purchase specialist equipment for the children of families who struggle to raise the necessary funds.

Now Gemma has received a Teesside Hero award after being nominated by one of the parents she has supported.

Gemma, from Ingleby Barwick, received a Teesside Hero award at a surprise presentation by Jayne Stephenson, a patron of charitable movement, Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

A school teacher at Ryehills Schools in Redcar, Gemma said: “It’s lovely to be appreciated and I must admit I had a little cry when I was presented with the award. I was startled because it’s usually my daughter, Charlotte, who rightly wins all the awards. I guess it was mum’s turn this time!

“When we had Rebecca, we realised how hard and expensive it was to get the equipment you need when you have a very poorly child. A lot of families just don’t know where to turn so I will help people wherever I can. More families need support now than ever before.

“The cost of specialist equipment many of the children need is very expensive – a small hand-held toy could be £100 and specialist bikes are over £1,000, which to some families is unaffordable. We aim to help these families through equipment grants and fundraising events.”

The Sands family have organised fundraising events such as charity balls, children’s parties, sponsored runs, quiz nights, tombolas and afternoon tea. By providing specialist equipment not available via the NHS, they have helped to enrich the lives of many local children with learning disabilities.

They also organise special events for the children and their families, such as trips to the pantomime and Middlesbrough Football Club.

And they have recently started a sibling project, which is led by their 12-year-old daughter Charlotte, organising pamper days, parties and bowling for siblings of children who have severe learning disabilities and life limiting conditions.

They have also raised enough money to purchase caravans at Primrose Valley and Reighton Sands, which are helping to provide breaks for 70 families with poorly children this year alone.

Gemma was nominated for the award by friend Nicola Hylton after the charity champion held a quiz night and other events to raise funds to purchase a protective helmet for Nicola’s son, Toby, who suffers from flat head syndrome after suffering a serious bleed at birth.

Special needs teacher Nicola said: “Together with Mike, Nicola has given up so much of her own time to raise money for local children. Both Mike and Gemma have full time jobs, so they spend their weekends and evenings organising and raising funds.

“We really weren’t expecting her to organise events to support our own fundraising and were overwhelmed with her support.

“Although scans have shown that everything internally with Toby is fine, the difficult birth left him with an unusually shaped head. Unfortunately, the helmet, which we hope will improve the shape of his head, are not provided on the NHS, as they are classed as cosmetic.”

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