Karl Donnan got in touch with us this week about National Epilepsy Week and his fundraising campaign. He will be climbing Mont Blanc this summer to raise money for the National Society for Epilepsy. We were so impressed by his story that we did a quick interview.
How did you come up with the idea of climbing Mont Blanc?
The idea came about as I wanted to do something to raise money in memory of my Godson Archie, who had died of a brain tumour 10 years ago, aged 14 months. I’ve pretty limited experience on mountains, but as Archie’s Dad Richard Chapman is a very experienced and a qualified mountaineer, I thought we could do something together, something challenging, and something different enough to get people’s attention so we could raise a lot of money for CLIC Sargent who had help Rich and his family when Archie was ill. We decided on Mont Blanc, set up the www.archiesmountain.com website and set a target of raising £4,810, one pound for every metre in height of Mont Blanc.
When my second son Ross was born in May 2008 we had to re-think our plans; Ross was having seizures from birth and spent the first seven weeks of his life in hospital while the doctors tried to get his seizures (which peaked at 82 per day) under control and to find out what was wrong. Rich and I agreed to postpone our Mont Blanc attempt until summer 2009, and to start also raising money for the National Society for Epilepsy. We added a link to our Justgiving page and set a target of another £4,810, a target which we’ve since increased to £15,780, one pound for each foot in height of Mont Blanc.
How does Ross inspire you?
He’s my son, and he needs help. The people we look to for help don’t have the answers yet, so that’s the main inspiration. Until Christmas it was very tough as Ross was not responding at all. Since then it’s still tough, but the big difference is that Ross has started responding to us. He smiles most days now and his smiles would melt the toughest heart.
Can you tell us more about Ross’s Epilepsy?
I’d love to but I’m afraid we don’t know that much, as the doctors also don’t know that much. We’ve been told he has a ‘severe and as yet undiagnosed form of epilepsy’. Ross’s seizures were finally brought under control through the use of steroids but his brain activity is ‘chaotic’ and his mental development is very limited. His seizures are under control at the minute but due to the side-effects we need to try to get him off the steroids in coming months so there’s a chance the seizures could return. We’re taking each day as it comes to be honest. Epilepsy is very overlooked and underfunded – the ‘stigma’ attached with epilepsy means people don’t really like talking about it. 17th-23rd May 2009 is National Epilepsy Week and I’m taking part in a lobby of MPs to try to push for more funding into epilepsy research.
You’ve raised an incredible amount, have you been surprised?
Yes, very pleasantly surprised. Ross’s story has touched everyone who hears it and the support we’ve received has been overwhelming. I think that’s reflected in the money raised so far. There’s lots happening; as well as the money we’ve raised, three friends (Dave, Rory and Kerry) all ran the London Marathon this year for the NSE, Donaghadee Young Farmer’s Club raised money at a BBQ, friends have asked for donations instead of gifts on the occassions of their kids’ Christenings, friends Pam and Jen from work held a charity Burns Supper, and my younger brother William and a dozen of his kite-surfing pals are planning to cross from Northern Ireland to Scotand in October.
Did you find having a blog useful for fundraising? What’s your best fundraising tip?
Having a good-looking, informative and easy-to-use website to direct people to has definitely helped with the fundraising. Our Blog section was originally mean to record our experiences during training (if you look back to early 2008 you’ll find references to Rich falling in a very cold river in Scotland, whilst teaching me how to cross rivers…), but when Ross was born it also became a place I could put upates on Ross’s progress as well as photos. It’s hard to know if having a Blog has helped with fundraising, but personally I’ve found it quite a good outlet just to capture some of the events and feelings we’ve been on in this rollercoaster year since Ross was born.
I think the best fundraising tip is to tell people about what you’re doing and how to sponsor you – if nobody knows, they can’t donate!!!
Can you tell us more about your charity?
When Ross was born I was amazed to discover how little the medical profession understands about epilepsy, and especially about how the infant brain works. We’re raising money for The National Society for Epilepsy which is a UK based chairty which funds cutting-edge medical research into epilepsy as well as promoting awareness of epilepsy and helping sufferers of epilepsy and their families.
When are you climbing Mont Blanc and have you ever done any climbing before?
We’ve got our flights booked and Rich and I are heading over to attempt to reach the summit on 12t-13th June 2009. My climbing experience is very limited but Rich has been teaching me what I need to know.
How is your climbing training going?
I’ve been on three intensive climbing training weekends in Glencoe and Snowdonia during which Rich has taught me the basics of ropework, how to handle crampons and ice-axes, as well as a lot of info on mountain safety. We’ve trained well, but despite Rich’s experience, the fitness we’ve both gained from months of training, and choosing the safest route during the safest period of the year, there’s still a chance that the altitude or weather could stop us from getting to the top. If that happens, we hope to be able to go back and try again later in the summer.
Are you scared of heights?
Not really. I paraglided quite a bit when we lived in Italy, and my earlier thrill-seeking did see me bungy-jump out of a helicopter once. Now I’m married with two kids I’m trying to make sure I keep my feet on the ground, and whilst I’m not too worried about the heights and drops we’ll experience on Mont Blanc, I’m well aware of the risks and the need for extreme care.
Are you going to set yourself another challenge after this one?
I guess I’ll still be wanting to feel like I’m doing something to help, so I’ll probably continue to do something to raise money for epilepsy charities. Whilst I hope I’ll continue climbing I doubt if we’ll move on to even bigger mountains so that may not be the next fundraiser – need to wait and see on that one.
How can people support your campaign?
Take advantage of the fact that it is National Epilepsy Week from 17-23 May 2009 to go online and learn about epilepsy. Visit our website and read about Ross. Raise awareness of epilepsy by talking about both with your family, friends and colleagues. You may also wish to sponsor us…