A group of family and friends will be walking 480km this Thursday in celebration of a very special baby girl’s first birthday.

Baby Sarah Barrett from Portnoo was born premature on 22nd April 2020 – at the height of the Covid-19 crisis.

Her parents, Claire O’Donnell and Jason Barrett, endured an anxious three months before and after her birth, with long hospital stays and restricted visits. Through it all, their ordeal was made so much easier with the support of staff at National Maternity Hospital Foundation in Dublin and the Neonatal Unit in Letterkenny University Hospital.

Thankfully, Sarah is happy, healthy and thriving now.

Sarah Barrett will turn one on Thursday

To celebrate her birthday on Thursday, Sarah’s family and friends have decided to fundraise for the hospitals by walking the 480km return journey that Claire and Sarah took when they were first rushed to Dublin in February 2020. Click here to visit their GoFundMe page: https://gofund.me/727548cc 

On the 15th February 2020, Claire’s waters broke at 24 weeks gestation. As Claire had been in and out of hospital with bleeds from week 14, they presumed it was another one. 

The incredible staff at Letterkenny University Hospital assured her it was in fact her waters and, after a few frantic hours, Claire was taken to The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street by ambulance. That was the first day of a 10 week stay in The National Maternity Hospital. Claire’s partner Jason and their sons Charlie, aged 12, and Conor, 10, waited at home.

Claire’s daughter Sarah fought fearlessly for 9 weeks before being delivered by emergency section at 33 weeks on the 22nd April 2020. Restrictions forced Jason to wait by the phone back home in Donegal for word of Sarah’s arrival. 

Baby Sarah

Claire recalls: “Every member of staff in the hospital were amazing. They kept us long term patients going with stories from their own lives and even organised a few Sundays of board games and treats (at that time of the restrictions not even partners were allowed visit).”

Four days after Sarah was born she was transferred back to Letterkenny Hospital where the wonderful staff of the Neonatal unit looked after her for a further 23 days. Restrictions meant that only Claire could visit each day, while video-calling Jason and the boys who had to stay outside waiting in the hospital carpark.

“Obviously it was hard leaving her every day, and we live an hour from the hospital. But we knew she was in very capable hands and we were treated with such kindness and compassion by everyone in Letterkenny,” Claire said.

Medical staff became ‘like family’ to Claire and Jason as they put their trust in them to care for baby Sarah. As Covid-19 was gripping the country, many staff were facing great uncertainty themselves and making their own sacrifices to protect patients.

“We know how lucky we are that we got a very happy ending to our story and will always be grateful to the two hospitals for that,” said Claire.

Claire, Charlie, Conor, and Jason on baby Sarah’s first day home from hospital

The 480km walking fundraiser will span across the country and the continents, with relatives in Canada and Australia clocking up some kilometres too. Claire, is originally from Carrick On Shannon, while her parents are from Ardara.

“While our family can’t come visit to celebrate Sarah’s birthday, this is going to be our way of celebrating,” Claire told DonegalWoman.ie.

Up to 40 people have pledged to walk on the day, with all steps tracked on a fitness app.

All money raised will be donated to the medical teams who cared for Claire and Sarah so well.

If you would like to support the challenge, visit the GoFundMe page here: https://gofund.me/727548cc