The internet is a wonderful thing. Through it – and especially Twitter – I’ve met some truly amazing and inspirational people.

One of these is Ivan Hollingsworth, a friend-of-a-friend (and now friend in his own right!) who puts himself through extraordinary physical challenges in order to raise money for CHUF, the Children’s Heart Unit Fund at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.

Here’s Ivan with his amazing and inspiring story of a father’s attempts to help others:


On Sunday 11th January 2009 our beautiful baby boy Sebastian was born. Like all other new parents we were overwhelmed with an emotional cocktail of euphoria, unbelievable love and a little bit of fear of what lay ahead.

This fear was the same as every other parent, for we believed Seb to be a healthy little boy.

Then 16 hours after he was born, Seb was taken away from us and rushed in an ambulance to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As it dawned on us that our little man was not 100%, we felt like we had been dropped into the worst nightmare imaginable (little did we know there would be worse to come). When the Consultant, Registrar and Specialist Nurse entered the room we both sank into a dark cold place, as we were informed our Seb had a Congenital Heart
Defect (CHD) called Tetralogy of Fallot.

Hours, Days and Weeks

Seb underwent over 6 hours of complex open heart surgery on Tuesday 5th May 2009 at the tender age of 16 weeks old.

What greeted us in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at the Freeman that evening was every parent’s worst nightmare. Seb had tubes and wires everywhere, his breathing and heart was being controlled by machines, he was puffy all over and was almost ice cold to touch.

I thought the job of being a Dad was to protect your child from nasty stuff and ensure they grew into strong, healthy and wonderful human beings; yet here I was with the reality that my Son may die.

Those first 24 hours after Seb’s surgery were rough – the photo of Seb on our website was taken because we thought it might be the last photo we ever took of him.

We watched as machines beeped and alarms sounded, bloods and gases were taken and emergency procedures carried out; we did leave for those.

Slowly Seb started to get stronger and after a week on PICU we were moved down to the ward; 5 weeks after this we finally got to take our little Superhero home and we started the next chapter of our lives.

Seb is now three and a half years old and although he will require further surgery in the next few years he is like any other cheeky little boy, with enough love, character and smiles to fill any room.

Why I do it

That feeling of helplessness combined with a need to say thank you to those who saved our child’s life are what has driven us (and some amazing friends) to raise over £200,000 for CHUF in under 3 years.

It would be very easy and completely understandable to move on from that kind of trauma; to bury the memories under a mountain of diversionary activities, but that just isn’t our style.

In fact the path we have chosen has enabled us to go a small way to thanking those amazing people at the Freeman Hospital and perhaps even positively impacting on the lives of other little Sebs in the future; all of which is incredibly cathartic.

Many of our fundraising events have been in the form of horrific endurance challenges, including C2C events.

In 2010 we ran 145 miles in 5 days across the Country.

The following year we went one better and created the C2C² and cycled one way across the Country (140 miles in 2 days)
then ran 145 miles in 5 days back again!

This summer we take the challenge up another gear and take on the C2C³; this will be a 3 day challenge where we cycle 100 miles and swim 1 mile across a lake on day 1, run a double Marathon on day 2 and finish with ‘just’ a Marathon on day 3.

For all of these events we are joined by some pretty sensational friends (including TV’s Ben Shephard) who endure blood, sweat and tears to help raise as much money and awareness for CHUF as possible.

It’s very difficult to express the motivational drive when in a position such as ours. Essentially what you need someone to do is imagine the worst possible pain i.e. losing your child, and then to watch as he is pulled back from the brink and subsequently able to live a full, happy and healthy life.

If that doesn’t leave you with a smile on your face and the drive to say thank you then I don’t know what will.


I can’t thank Ivan enough for sharing his remarkable story on SmileThroughIt. It encapsulates everything I’m striving to achieve with the “art of the second chance” tagline to this site and, even though Seb is too young to be practicing it himself, Ivan is doing his son proud with everything that he does.

Pop back on Saturday as this week’s inspirational video comes from Ivan’s own 24 hours, 100mile challenge earlier this year.

If you want to learn more about CHUF and Ivan’s work for them, you can visit and you can drop Ivan a personal message via Twitter, where you can also keep up-to-date with everything they have going on!

And if you’re moved to make a donation, you can find them on JustGiving at

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