A DEVOTED father has raised thousands of pounds to help seriously poorly children by running a half marathon and crossing the finishing line holding his own brave baby daughter who was born with a heart defect.

On July 13, 2023, Ella Grace McKellar-Tomkins was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital and, soon after, the University Hospital Southampton at just six days old.

The newborn had been struggling to breathe and a number of tests soon discovered the devastating news that Ella had a coarctation of the aorta - a birth defect in which a part of the aorta is narrower than usual - and multiple VSD’s (ventricular septal defects).

Bracknell News: Alan and Natalie spent months by baby Ella’s side in Southampton Hospital

A VSD results in holes in the walls of Ella’s heart and after the surgery to correct this, an aortic aneurysm - a balloon-like bulge in the main artery of the heart- was also discovered having formed on the repair.

The family, including parents Alan and Natalie McKellar-Tomkins and Ella’s siblings Esme and Millie, have all since been through an emotional journey of uncertainty as they come to terms with the youngster’s life-threatening condition.

Now 10 months old, Ella has undergone numerous surgeries and treatment that have helped correct the heart defects. After months of living close to the hospital in Southampton, the treatment has meant the family have been able to move back to Bracknell.

Back home, Ella will be monitored for the aneurysm, the next scan being in September.

According to the family, Ella is a happy baby and doing well as she fights to get stronger for any future surgeries she may need.

The Bracknell family said they received an overwhelming amount of support from Friends of PICU and the Ronald McDonald Foundation during their time at the Southampton hospital.

The Ronald McDonald Foundation provided support and accommodation for the family as they moved to Southampton to stay close to Ella. While the Friends of PICU help the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit in Southampton by providing state of the art equipment and facilities that benefited Ella’s treatment and recovery during her stay in the hospital.

As a thank you, Ella’s family has since stepped up to raise funds for the charities that have supported Ella’s turbulent journey following diagnosis, including eldest daughter Esme who hosted a bake sale at Floreat Montague Park Primary which raised a fantastic £250.

Also joining the fundraising efforts, dad Alan recently laced up for the Southampton Half Marathon. The father took on the 13-mile challenge, on Sunday, April 7, and despite running with an injury crossed the line in an impressive 2hrs 17minutes.

But it wasn’t the race time that mattered as the father completed the challenge, it was the emotional moment as he carried baby Ella over the finishing line which stole everyone’s hearts.

Alan, the owner of Red Terrain Landscaping in Bracknell, said: “It was so emotional. I’m so happy I raised that amount of money for other children to benefit from and to help buy new equipment to treat other sick babies.

“I crossed the line at 2hrs and 17 minutes with Ella in my arms. Considering I was running with a torn calf I was really proud of myself. The crowd kept me going throughout the run.”

Bracknell News: Family at half marathon

Alan raised £2,740 for the Friends of PICU charity and hopes the money will go towards helping other poorly children who enter Southampton’s hospital with life-threatening conditions like Ella did.

As part of the half marathon in Southampton, 20 runners from across the UK raised over £28,000 for the Friends of PICU charity.

In a letter, the Friends of PICU, The Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and University Hospital Southampton thanked Alan for his support during the half-marathon.

Dr Ian Macintosh, chairman of Friends of PICU and Clinical PICU consultant said: “The unit really appreciates the incredible support received from the charity as it makes an enormous difference across the whole of the unit and the excellent level of care that can be provided to children and families.

"It is through such kindness given by you that we make a real difference.”

Go online to gofundme.com/f/w2rwh-friends-of-picu to donate to the family’s fundraising efforts.