Chesterfield dad Dale Evans is undertaking a 10,000ft tandem skydive this weekend to raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust, the charity that supported his family with a place to stay when his baby daughter was admitted to hospital with a brain tumour.
Dale Evans with daughter Iliarna. Credit: Dale Evans and Jessica Brownhill.
In September 2020, following a period of illness and struggling with her food, six-week-old Iliarna Evans was sent to Chesterfield Royal Hospital for an ultrasound examination. The results indicated that Iliarna may have fluid on her brain, and she was immediately blue lighted to Sheffield Children’s Hospital for further investigation. It was discovered that as well as fluid, Iliarna had a brain tumour that was around half the size her skull. Dale said:
“Both me and Jess, Iliarna’s mum, were in complete shock. They told us that the tumour had pushed her brain to one side, and that she needed surgery immediately. She was in theatre for nine hours, where they removed 90 percent of the tumour before being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. She spent the next six months undergoing treatment, right in the middle of covid and all the restrictions that came with it. She was christened two days after her operation, with a Chaplin doing it by her hospital bedside and Godparents watching via a Zoom call. It was so emotional.
“We also have a ten-year-old son with autism, who we had to leave with his grandma while all this was going on. It was just a horrendous time for all of us, made just a little bit more bearable by the support of a The Sick Children’s Trust.”
During Iliarna’s time in Sheffield, dad Dale and mum Jessica Brownhill – who is registered disabled and has trouble walking – stayed in both Magnolia House and Treetop House, two ‘Homes from Home’ run by The Sick Children’s Trust that serve Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Dale said:
Iliarna received treatment at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Credit: Dale Evans and Jessica Brownhill.
“We first stayed in Magnolia House, which was closest to the Intensive Care Unit, being just minutes away from Iliarna’s ward, and moved to Treetop House, which is also close really close, once she was out of ICU. Their two ‘Homes from Home’ in Sheffield kept us close to Iliarna, giving us a place to rest, shower, cook a meal, wash our clothes, and generally look after ourselves a bit better, all free of charge. It meant that Jess could be there for Iliarna and I could be there for Jess, helping her get to the ward in the morning, collecting things from the room when needed and trying to be as useful as possible.
“Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without that support, it was unbelievable. The amount of time they gave us with Iliarna, not having to worry about a place to stay or driving back and forth from Chesterfield every day, meant so much to us. That will be my motivation when it comes to stepping out of that plane.”
Before her first birthday, Iliarna underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy, with a maximum of two weeks passing between each round. Her chemotherapy treatment was initially delayed due to the fluid on her brain, which required a thin tube, known as a shunt, to be implanted in order to drain the excess fluid away.
Two years later, Iliarna is now classed as ‘living with cancer’, having marked the completion of her treatment in February by ‘ringing the bell’. Now in nursery and starting to speak in sentences, Iliarna’s remarkable recovery and boundless joy has earned her the nickname ‘Warrior Princess’. She loves to dance too, with The Blues Brothers classic “Everybody needs somebody” guaranteed to get her on her feet.
Dale is now all set for The Sick Children’s Trust’s Skydive Weekend which takes place on 3-4 June, with the 45-year-old heading to Lancashire for a jump that will see him reach speeds of up to 120mph. Dale said:
“I’m getting a bit nervous, to be honest. I’ve never done anything like this before, but after everything The Sick Children’s Trust did for me and Jess whilst Iliarna was in hospital, I felt it was so important to do something, to try to give something back. I’m an HGV driver for a scrap company which has a few sites in the area, and I’m doing my best to spread the word so people can sponsor me. I really hope I can raise plenty of money for this wonderful charity that helped us so much.”
The Sick Children’s Trust does not charge families to stay in any of its ‘Homes from Home’ however it does cost the charity £40 to support a family for one night. That cost is only rising with the cost-of-living crisis which is why the charity needs even more support. Elisa Cappello Dowd, Community Fundraising Manager for The Sick Children’s Trust, said:
“We’re so pleased we could support brave Iliana’s parents during such an incredibly difficult time, and thrilled to hear that she is doing so well. Jumping from a plane at 10,000 feet for our charity is awe-inspiring, and we can’t thank Dale enough for supporting our ‘Homes from Home’ through this challenge.
“As a charity we rely on the generosity of our supporters and fundraisers like Dale to make sure we can continue supporting families while their children are seriously ill in hospital.”
More information about Dale’s skydive challenge can be found on his Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dale-evans10.
All smiles! Iliarna earned the nickname ‘Warrior Princess’. Credit: Dale Evans and Jessica Brownhill.