Beards of Hope

Emily Ward takes great pleasure in removing husband Robbie''s beard. Picture: GREG CARRICK

By Casey Neill

A grieving couple is using the pain of losing their baby son to help other bereaved parents.

Mount Evelyn’s Business Dragon Tattoo Co supported the Ward family’s Beards of Hope fund-raiser.

Barber Bec Campbell performed cut-throat shaves for Robbie Ward, Shaun Panayi, Chris Reid and Stefan Wassnig on Friday 31 August.

They started growing beards on 1 June, just days after Robbie and wife Emily lost their son, Samuel Robert Ward.

Sam was born on 16 May, just over 21 weeks into Emily’s pregnancy.

He had a chromosomal abnormality called Patau syndrome. Children born with the condition live for only a few days at best.

“He lasted with us for 24 minutes, which was very precious,” Robbie said.

A scan at 17 weeks as part of a medical training program picked up the issue by chance.

“From there it snowballed pretty quickly,” Robbie said.

They had an amniocentesis, which tests amniotic fluid for abnormalities.

“That’s a more conclusive diagnosis,” he said.

Robbie said the chance of having a baby with Patau was one in 28,000.

“It’s no one’s fault,” he said.

“We couldn’t do anything to change what happened.

“We had a little service for him at Helen’s Hill Estate.”

The Wards have two other sons, aged 2 and 5 years.

“He knows he’s got another little brother who’s not with him,” he said of the five-year-old.

The hospital alerted them to support services, including Bears of Hope Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support and its Beards of Hope fund-raiser.

“I’ve never grown a beard before,” he said.

“It was itchy as to start with.

“The last three months has opened our eyes to a lot of great organisations.

“Red Nose was great.

“For three weeks they rang Emily once a week to see how she was going and let her know when counselling sessions were on.”

They also encountered Heartfelt, a volunteer organisation of professional photographers who gift photoshoots to families who’ve experienced stillbirths or premature births, or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.

“We’ve got some good memories,” Robbie said.

Emily is fund-raising for Cuddle Cots, so other parents can have the same opportunity to capture their precious, short time with their baby.

“They’re like an electric blanket but they’re cold,” Robbie said.

“They sit underneath the baby’s cot.

“It allows the parent to keep the baby with them for as long as they want.

“It preserves them so you can keep the baby with you.”

There are only six in the state and each kit costs about $6000.

“Only tertiary hospitals have got them,” he said.

“We’re trying to raise enough money to donate one.

“We’d like to give one to a country hospital so they don’t have to come to Melbourne to a tertiary hospital.”

The Wards spent just over 24 hours with their little boy.

“He didn’t leave the room. Others aren’t lucky enough to have that,” Robbie said.

Visit to support their efforts.