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Coogee Local a Bona Fide Hero

By Joel Bevilacqua on January 30, 2019 in News

The power of positivity, Jesse Taylor

Even on the day of the NSW Australian of the Year Awards, a day when she was to be named the 2019 New South Wales Local Hero, Sophie Smith still managed to squeeze in a run.

The long-time Coogee resident told The Beast she went for a very short four-kilometre run between a morning tea at Government House and the awards ceremony in the evening.

“I just ran to Ash’s grave in Waverley Cemetery to take a moment to reflect on the last 12 years and how much I have to be grateful for despite our losses,” Ms Smith said.

That evening, Ms Smith dedicated her award to her three triplets, Henry, Jasper and Evan, whom are the inspiration behind her charity, Running for Premature Babies (RFPB) – a running group raising money for the Royal Hospital for Women’s (RHW) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, as well as other NICUs around the country.

In 2006, Ms Smith and her husband Ash tragically lost their triplets to complications stemming from their premature births. In 2016, Ash also passed away after a prolonged battle with brain cancer.

When Ms Smith first started RFPB, less than a year after the loss of her sons, her goal was to raise $20,000; enough money to purchase one new humidicrib for Sydney’s Royal Women’s Hospital, in memory of her boys.

RFPB has since grown to be a registered charitable foundation that has raised over $3 million.

The contribution RFPB has made to the NICU at RHW has transformed it into the most advanced neonatal unit in the country.

Ms Smith said winning the 2019 NSW Local Hero Award in November made her feel immensely proud of her little triplets and hoped that it would help raise the profile of premature birth.

“12 per cent of babies are born prematurely in Australia each year, which equates to 26,000 babies,” Ms Smith said.

“It’s these babies who have to fight to stay alive, and the incredible neonatologists and neonatal nurses who work tirelessly day and night to save their lives, who are the heroes here, not me.”

Thanks to the new equipment RFPB has funded, babies who are even smaller and sicker than Ms Smith’s boys were can now be saved.

When Ms Smith’s babies were born at 24 weeks, they were given a 50 per cent chance of survival. Babies at the same gestation now have a 70 per cent chance of survival.

So far, approximately 5,000 babies have benefitted from this new equipment and research, and some of the very sickest babies wouldn’t have pulled through without it.

For those looking to get involved with RFPB, their next event is the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon, which will be held on May 19.
This is the charity’s biggest event each year and RFPB is offering 15 weeks of free training starting in early February.

RFPB has a number of other events planned for 2019, the most exciting being the Annapurna Marathon in the Nepalese Himalayas. Ms Smith said that numbers are strictly limited for this event, so you will need to jump on their website, www.runningforprematurebabies.com, as soon as possible for further information. If you are unable to run in these events, the website has information on other ways to donate or fundraise.

Ms Smith’s memoir, ‘Sophie’s Boys’, co-authored by Coogee local Deb Fitzgerald, is also available to purchase on the website and at all good bookstores, with profits donated to RFPB.

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