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Hatto returns from ‘Hazel’s Helper’ hike

by Evan Matthews |

Having hiked some  600 kilometres around the United Kingdom’s South West Coast Path, Hazel’s Helper has returned home to Jasper.

Calling his trek “Poppa’s adventure,” David Hatto says he spent Apr. 26 to Jul. 16, 2017 soul searching and raising awareness of Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Hatto lost his granddaughter to SIDS in August 2014.

“I felt really helpless. I didn’t really know what to do,” says Hatto.

As long as Hatto’s daughter-in-law Gillian was struggling, so too was Hatto. Once she had outlasted the deepest and darkest part of her grief, Gillian decided she was going to make change and started Hazel’s Heroes, a society run through the non-profit SIDS Calgary.

SIDS is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old, according to BabyCenter Canada. Although the cause is unknown, it appears SIDS might be associated with defects in the portion of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep, according to BabyCenter Canada.

The purpose of the Hazel’s Heroes is to provide support retreats for mothers who have lost their babies.

“She realized she wasn’t the only one who had to go through this (grieving) period with little support from anybody aside from her immediate family,” says Hatto. “Really, nobody could understand how she felt. She decided she was going to do something about it… Once she decided she was going to do that, I knew what I had to do.”

Poppa’s adventure

Hatto then had business cards made, along with a large photo of Hazel to drape across his back during the trek, all in the hopes of starting conversations along the way.

There were four main reasons Hatto had to do the hike, he says: To share an outdoor adventure with Hazel, to increase awareness of SIDS, to raise funds for Hazel’s Heroes, and to come to terms with Hazel’s death.

“I think most men deal with issues in their life through either fight or flight, and you can’t run away from a granddaughter’s death,” says Hatto. “The only thing left is to fight. It turned into Poppa’s Adventure. I thought it would help me cope.”

So Hatto hiked just over 1,000-kilometres around the south west coast of England, starting in Minehead — with some 55 locations in between — ultimately finishing in Poole.

Many people hike the South West Coast Path, he says, but more often than not they break it up into various trips over their lifetime.

Whether it was grabbing a pint with his sons during a surprise visit in Mevagissey, or the shocking donation Hatto received from a group of homeless men, Hatto says his trek was full of surprises.

But perhaps one of the most notable surprises was during Hatto’s time in Abbotsbury, where Emma Thomasson of the BBC caught wind of his story, and interviewed him live on air on June 27.

“Quietly battling the hills, but for David, the biggest challenge is what’s on his mind,” Thomasson read to homes across the U.K. and the world.

Helping those affected

Hatto says the trek to England ended up costing him a bit more personally than the $2,000 he raised in support of Hazel’s Heroes, but he admits the trip was more of a soul searching experience and a way to generate SIDS awareness.

Since watching Gillian go through her own struggles directly related to feeling isolated, Hatto says he’s seen firsthand examples of how Hazel’s Heroes has been able to provide support to others, and how valuable that support can be.

“In the months following the sudden and unexpected loss of my beautiful five-year-old daughter Lucy, one of the most overwhelming emotions I faced was isolation,” says Kara, a 2017 Hazel’s Heroes retreat attendee. “Hazel’s Heroes provided me the opportunity to spend time with other moms who also experienced the loss of a child, helping me to feel less alone — something I would have never thought possible in the months following Lucy’s death.”

Hatto hopes to continue raising awareness in support of Hazel’s Heroes, even today.

Donations in support of those affected by SIDS can be made payable to SIDS Calgary Society with Hazel’s Heroes put on the memo line. Hazel’s Heroes also has a GoFundMe account, searchable by “Hazel’s Heroes.”

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