A mother who lost her young daughter to a rare and tragic illness is preparing to walk non-stop from South Harris to Ness to help raise money for other critically ill children.
Exactly two years after five-year-old Elizabeth Spencer’s life support machine was switched off, grieving mum Natalia Spencer, now living in Stornoway, will walk 80-miles from St Clement’s Church, Rodel, to the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse as part of her ongoing Elizabeth’s Footprint campaign.
Natalia, 42, plans to complete the journey in 24-hours, departing from Rodel at midday on Saturday, December 9th and arriving in Ness around lunchtime on Sunday December 10th.
This will be Natalia’s first long distance trek since completing a 6,000 mile round-Britain walk in February this year. The year-long walk and donations received since have raised over £200,000 for Elizabeth’s Footprint, the project she set up shortly after losing her daughter to a fatal autoimmune condition.
Elizabeth was a happy, healthy five-year-old, looking forward to Christmas when, in late November 2015, she developed flu-like symptoms. Over the next few hours she became progressively worse and Natalia, a single mother, decided to take her to their local hospital in Cheltenham as a precaution.
“I took nothing with me, I left the heating on – I thought we would be back home in a hour or two,” she said. “I didn’t know this would be the last time that I would leave this house with Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth’s condition rapidly deteriorated and she was transferred to Bristol Children’s Unit where she was put into an induced coma. Doctors there told Natalia that Elizabeth was suffering from Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, a rare condition in which Elizabeth’s immune system was attacking her own body, shutting down her major organs and cutting off the blood supply to her limbs.
For 18 days “the doctors tried everything,” said Natalia. “They tried revolutionary new treatments but from the outset I was told that she would almost certainly not survive. I cannot describe what this does to you – one moment everything is normal and then your world as you know it is gone - without warning.”
Natalia found herself walking the corridors of the ward as she waited for any ray of hope. “Walking helped, just moving, just walking, walking – I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do to help my daughter other than to be there with her.”
On December 10th 2016 Elizabeth’s life support machine was switched off.
Natalia, originally from the Ukraine but who has been living in the UK for 10 years, knew she could not go home to their rented house and continue the life as before. She returned home just once, to pack away their things, and, with the support of friends, decided to start walking the coast of Britain to raise money to help other children like Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s Footprint, raising money for Bristol Children’s Hospital and critically ill children, saw Natalia circumnavigate England, Scotland and Wales on foot over the course of a year. She was confronted by many challenges but, although she had been prepared to camp, not a single night passed without someone offering her somewhere to sleep and a hot meal. Many people joined her as she walked too – sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days.
“Walking was my therapy and I think in a way my journey – my grieving - became a support for many others who had lost children or faced difficult times. I hope so anyway,” she said. “I talked to a lot of people, they talked to me, and it helped to get through the minutes and the days.”
When she completed the walk, to huge media attention, Natalia decided to return to northern Scotland where she had felt a special connection whilst walking. She has now been living in Stornoway for three months and works in Tesco, though she still walks every day.
“I have found great peace up here but I knew I wanted to do a long walk on the anniversary of Elizabeth’s death. I feel that everything I do that lets people know her story, and see her face, keeps her in the world a little bit more, somehow.”
Natalia’s dream is to raise £1 million during her lifetime for the care of critically ill children and donations towards her walk this month would be welcomed.
She plans to walk non-stop so will not sleep, but cups of coffee or food en-route, and messages of support from passers-by would be warmly welcomed. People are welcome to walk with her for sections of the route too – you will not miss her rainbow headband and pink walking clothes, worn in Elizabeth’s honour.
“Rainbows have followed me on my journey,” Natalia said. “On the day of her funeral there was a double rainbow across the sky, and also there was another one on the day that I finished the round Britain walk. So I wear my rainbow again this time, for Elizabeth.”
To find out more about Elizabeth’s Footprint or to contact Natalia visit her just giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/natalia-spencer or visit her website www.elizabethsfootprint.com