The pain of losing Harry, and the determination to help others

Craven Herald: Harry Marsden-Mellin Harry Marsden-Mellin

2010 was the worse year in Claire Marsden’s life. In November, the then 29-year-old Skipton hairdresser lost her precious son, Harry, to a brain tumour. He was ten months old.

Earlier in the year she had been accused of abusing him and had been the focus of an investigation ending in an arrest. The accusation was totally unfounded and the investigation dropped in September.

Less than a month later, Harry became ill and died on November 2. Since then she has put all her energy into raising funds for her brain tumour charity, Harry’s Star, which reached £50,000 this month. Here she tells the Craven Herald her story.

“In November 2010, my life changed beyond anything I could ever imagine. Every parents’ worst nightmare.

“In the October, my son, Harry Marsden-Mellin, first became poorly. My doctor immediately referred me to Airedale Hospital.

“I went back and forth for two weeks until they eventually discovered it was a brain tumour and Harry was referred to a team at Leeds General Infirmary where he was diagnosed with a metastatic medulloblastoma.

“Surgery was planned to remove the tumour, but sadly Harry deteriorated and had a procedure to insert an emergency shunt.

“He then began chemotherapy, but sadly a few days later he was rushed into intensive care and put on a life support machine. He was fitting so much, which resulted in extensive brain damage.

“At 4pm on the Monday the decision was taken to turn the life support machine off. Harry was just 10 months old.

“I was 29. Turning a life support machine off was something you read about. Why me? Why my son? It often makes me feel guilty I didn't protect him from his pain, his brain tumour. It makes me feel like I failed my son.

“I remember feeling detached at the time as it all felt so unreal, but I guess it’s your body’s way of dealing with such shock and pain.

“I was once told that the second year is the hardest and then once you enter the third you feel like you have climbed a massive mountain.

“Over time you get fewer expressions of sympathy and you suddenly realise you have to deal with this pain on your own. There is no 'right' way to try deal with the pain other than the right way for you.

“I’ve changed massively and only true friends and close family have learnt to love the new me.

“It’s hard to watch Harry's peers now starting school and growing into proper little boys – children who were younger are now older. It only feels like yesterday for me since I kissed Harry in his coffin but in reality it’s three years on.”

Before Claire faced this life-changing trauma, she had already coped with the totally unfounded accusation of abusing her son.

The ordeal started with an anonymous complaint in April that she had locked him in a room. It sparked a six month social services investigation.

She was arrested on July 17, 2010 following a second complaint which alleged he was being force-fed and was shaky “because he was being poisoned with the children’s medicine Calpol”.

Claire had been giving it to Harry, who was regularly screaming in pain throughout the night.

She was arrested and had her home, car and bins searched. After Harry was examined and no evidence of abuse found, Claire was released without charge on September 13.

“It had been an incredibly frightening experience. All I kept thinking was ‘what if they don’t believe me.’ and where had Harry gone.”

Claire believes some of the symptoms her little boy showed related to his brain tumour but were not picked up at the time.

She spoke to the Craven Herald the following month and said: “I feel as though they have robbed me of my time with Harry.”

These ordeals have strengthened Claire’s determination to support others who have suffered like Harry.

She said:“How can I, as his mum, let Harry's memory be forgotten? I won’t let people forget.

“This is why I started Harry's star, a fund of the regional charity Brain Tumour Research Support.

“While dealing with the intense grief and pain, I needed to focus on something positive. I wanted to develop a project which provides support and advice for those who survive long-term treatment. I set myself a £50,000 target.

“In November 2011 as part of a long-term fundraising initiative for Harry's Star, Harry's Farm was launched with a soft toy lamb, followed by a sheepdog and now a pig.

“A few years ago fundraising would never have been something I’d ever thought of doing, and here I am raising £50,000 to help others. Making a difference to people’s lives.

“But without all my supporters none of this could have been possible. I’m touched that so many people continue to stay as passionate as I do, and loyal to Harry’s Star.

“Now I’ve reached my target and can see the project coming together, it fills me with so much emotion.

“Harry was an incredible smiley little boy, who has taught me so much, I’m still learning to live with the pain, but I’m positive about the future. I've got a beautiful girl called Lily, who has helped make every day bearable.

“Harry’s Star has touched many people’s lives and I’ve had an overwhelming response on Facebook with over 1,400 likes and hundreds of messages including our recent supporter John Newman.”

People wanting to support Claire can visit justgiving.com/harrysstar or text HAZA47, with the amount you want to donate, to 70070 (for example, to donate £10, text HAZA47 10) And, anyone with fundraising ideas or willing to sell the Harry’s Star pigs should contact Claire on 01756 798090.

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