Star Fundraiser Award: Karl McPherson

The Star Fundraiser Award an extraordinary individual who has gone above and beyond to fundraise in their local community on behalf of Tommy’s. This is Karl’s story.

Karl and Emma met on the 30th of December 2009, thanks to online dating. It was their shared passions for their careers and love of the outdoors that helped them to quickly form a strong bond. Within two months of meeting, they began planning to live together and in 13 months they were married.

In 2011, They started trying for a family. Sadly, their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. At this point they just thought themselves unlucky. With his medical background, Karl felt convinced that the next pregnancy would be far more straightforward. And the next pregnancy seemed to follow that rule. They were understandably anxious when they found themselves expecting for the second time, but there were no real problems for the duration of the pregnancy. Their son was born healthily in the November, just two months after their first wedding anniversary. After the usual first-time parent worries began to ease, Karl and Emma began to think about trying again. 

 “Our son was everything we’d hoped for and more: alert, engaging and, for the most part, well humoured. We knew that if he could be this amazing as an only child, there was every possibility that another child would make our home a really fulfilling place.”

Everything seemed straight forward, so they began to try for another child. However, when their next loss happened in February 2014, they were devastated. And then it happened again, and again.

 “We were now part of a club no-one wanted to be in, those 1:100 who experience recurrent miscarriage. This was a particularly dark time as, in some ways, we were waiting to have the 3rd loss to become eligible for investigations, while knowing there may not be a possible treatment to help us. We wanted to have hope but couldn’t see how.

At the point where we had miscarriage number four, it was the same day that one of my university friends had had a stillbirth. Three months afterwards, he said he was going to do a 305km bike ride through the Welsh hills.I felt I had to join in in some way. I didn’t want it to be about me, I wanted it to be about pregnancy loss. So I said, ‘do you want me to ride alongside you? I can’t do 305 km but I can show up with a bike, and I can give it a go.”

And give it a go he did, completing 95 miles! Being part of a team of 18 cyclists all for the same cause inspired Karl to commemorate the losses they endured as a couple. So, after their five miscarriages, Karl planned and completed his ‘5 for 5’ challenge; a solo bike-packing ride to five ski centres - over 320 miles across 3 days.  

The five centres - nearly the  vertical height equivalent of climbing from sea level to Everest base camp –  represented each of his five miscarriages. Thankfully, a few months after completing this event, Karl and Emma's second child was born.

To date Karl has completed the Ride London-Surrey, Etape Caledonia, Tour of Ayrshire and St Mary’s Loch standard distance triathlon, in support of Tommy’s. Since this Emma has begun her own fundraising. The family dedicated the  birthday of their second child to the cause, Emma ran the Great North run, raising £1200, and her sisters ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon, raising a further £700.

Karl has also channelled creativity into a designing a range of cycling shirts with proceeds going to Tommy’s. These amazing shirts are inspired by the giant Australian cuttlefish, who produce some of the most dazzling colour shows to find a mate, and on mating, defend their eggs to the point of starvation. 

 “Having been on this journey to have our children I could think of no better allegory for what being a parent has meant for us. I figured what better way to open discussions about pregnancy loss than by what we wear.”

It is Karl’s hope that through these jerseys, we can start to break the taboo that surrounds pregnancy loss.

 “I had to figure out what my role was going to be. So in a way, the fundraising stuff became my go to, my way to  make things better. My wife and I are incredibly blessed with a tenacious, witty and loving son and have tried over and over again to give him a sibling. The five for five challenge represented the five miscarriages we had had at that time. 5 babies we will never meet, whose jokes we will never pretend to understand, nor watch take their first steps and more. 5 times of saying goodbye before we had even met.

Fundraising on behalf of Tommy's is a way of hopefully providing a better tomorrow through research for every baby we couldn't keep from harm.”

Both as a parent and as an obstetrician Karl and his family are proud to support Tommy’s vital research into pregnancy complications and to help others facing hardship in pregnancy.