Keeping children entertained over the long summer months can often be a challenge, but a Dunrossness family found a solution by raising money for charity, and had great fun doing it.
The Howard family, from Virkie, includes Yoel, 10, Hannah, eight, Abigail, seven, Ellie, four, Esther, three, and baby Hillel, one, all of whom took part in a sponsored 100-mile walk over the summer months to raise money for the Haemophilia Society.
The Haemophilia Society provides information and support for people affected by bleeding disorders. It is the only national and independent organisation which does this and works in close partnership with the NHS.
The charity is close to the family’s heart, as five of the six children have been diagnosed with various forms of blood disorders.
Eldest child Yoel has severe haemophilia A. The condition means his blood does not clot in the usual manner and is caused by a lack of Factor VIII which is usually found in the blood and which is essential for it to clot.
As well as having problems with cuts, people with haemophilia A can experience spontaneous bleeds in their joints, often from no apparent injury, which Yoel said could be “very painful”.
Although the condition is lifelong and there is no cure, sufferers can be treated with injections of the missing factor, which allows their blood to clot.
Yoel is treated with a portacath which is inserted in his chest and allows an infusion of Factor VIII into his bloodstream three times a week.
He was diagnosed with the condition as a baby and his father Mark explained that he used to have constant bleeds in his joints, which if left untreated can in some cases lead to arthritis.
However, the treatment Yoel receives combats this and allows him to lead an active life, something that Mr Howard said and his son both appreciate.
Mr Howard said: “Yoel has gone from being a lad that was having constant bleeds . . . The clotting factor which he receives from the health board costs £600 per phial, that’s a lot. He is very grateful of the fact that he has a pretty normal life and he wanted to do something.
“[The walk] was entirely his suggestion, not ours. His mum listened to him and helped him organise it and it’s gone from there.”
As well as haemophilia, there are many other blood disorders in which any of a number of blood clotting agents can be missing from the blood and which can affect people in different forms, such as the condition Von Willebrand’s, which youngest child Hillel has been diagnosed with.
The condition commonly affects people quite mildly, causing regular nose bleeds and bruising. However, a more severe form can occur, producing symptoms more like those of people with severe haemophilia A.
Three of the sisters, Abigail, Ellie and Esther, also have blood disorders but are not affected to the extent Yoel is.
The fund-raising idea came entirely from Yoel, who had the idea to do something to raise money for the Haemophilia Society after reading newsletters from other children who had done similar things.
So during the summer holidays, between July and September, Yoel and his “team”, accompanied by either mother Janet or Mr Howard, completed several walks around the isles, making up 100 miles in total.
The challenge took them all around Shetland and they visited sites such as Jarshof, Old Scatness, St Ninian’s Isle and the Quendale Water Mill and camped at Eshaness.
They also did kite-flying walks, flower-spotting and bird-spotting walks, with highlights including the Pool of Virkie and the puffins at Sumburgh Head.
They even travelled to Fair Isle and it was the walk there which Yoel said was the hardest, as they walked from one side of the isle to the other. He said: “I walked up a very steep hill with my dad and had a joint bleed in my knee the next day.”
Throughout the summer the children kept a journal of their experiences, noting the birds and flowers they saw and what they enjoyed about the places they visited.
Yoel said: “It was lots of fun, we did lots of different walks.”
The family said they were very grateful to Disability Shetland, who provided an all-terrain wheelchair on loan which allowed Hannah, who has difficulty walking distances over 400 metres, to go along too.
The walk was completed on 29th September with a visit to the Crofthouse Museum in Dunrossness. Although the family has a target of £1,000, their total currently stands at just £15 and anyone who would like to contribute can still do so.
Yoel said: “Thank you to all the people who have sponsored me. We have a sponsor form at the Toab post office, Virkie. If anyone would like to donate they can also do so online at www.justgiving.com/teamyoel.”