The Duchess of Cambridge has vowed to plant a sunflower in memory of a little boy whose brother raised a staggering £18,500 for the hospice that cared for him shortly before he died.
Kate Middleton, 38, made her touching promise to Stuie Delf, 13, whose adored brother Fraser lost his battle against Coats plus syndrome, a rare condition that affects multiple organs and causes brain abnormalities, in January aged just nine.
The comments came during a group call between Kate and the Duchess of Cornwall, 72. It is the first time the pair have undertaken a joint engagement, either virtual or in the flesh.
Inspired by legendary 100-year-old fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, Stuie vowed to undertake a sponsored five kilometres run every day last month to raise funds for the East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH) site in Milton, Cambridgeshire, which has seen a dramatic drop in funding due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Duchess of Cambridge, 38, joined the Duchess of Cornwall, 72, for a video call to mark Children’s Hospice Week
The virtual occasion marked the first joint appearance between Kate Middleton and Camilla during their time in the royal family
The Duchess of Cambridge, who joined the video call from her Norfolk home of Anmer Hall, donned a smart green blouse for the virtual meeting.
Kate opted for a natural makeup look for the call, with a touch of lip gloss and a sweep of dark eyeliner across her lids.
Meanwhile the Duchess of Cornwall selected a pinstriped blue shirt and navy blazer for the occasion.
Stuie, who was cheered on by neighbours, had initially aimed to raise £500 to fill the gap and thank staff for the cherished memories of the time he spent there with his family but ended up exceeding all expectations.
The Duchesses spoke with the Delf family about their fundraising efforts following the death of Fraser, nine, in January
‘Fraser wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend,’ he told Kate.
The duchess teamed up with the Duchess of Cornwall, for the Zoom call to mark Children’s Hospice Week.
They spoke to Stuie and his parents, Stuart and Carla Delf, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, during a video call with representatives of three charities.
What is Coats plus syndrome?
The term ‘Coats plus’ refers to an eye condition called Coats disease, plus abnormalities in the brain, bones and gastrointestinal system. Those with Coats disease have abnormally enlarged (dilated) blood vessels in their retina. These leak fluid causing the layers of the retina to separate in retinal detachment. This often results in loss of vision.
Brain abnormalities in this condition cause progressive difficulties such as slow growth, seizures, movement disorders and decreasing intellectual function. Osteopenia is common, as is anaemia causing pale skin and extreme tiredness. Abnormal bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, portal hypertension and liver failure can be life-threatening. Life span is shortened and does not often exceed 30 years.
Less common symptoms include malformed fingernails and toenails, prematurely grey hair and abnormalities in pigmentation, such as light brown patches on the skin.
‘I hear you’ve been doing lots of fundraising, which has been amazing,’ Kate, who is patron of EACH, said. Camilla added: ‘Captain Tom has done a lot for this country, hasn’t he? He’s inspired so many people. You must be very fit, Stuie.’
The two women talked to him and his parents about the seven weeks they spent living in the hospice with Fraser before he died.
Fraser, a cheeky and loving boy, had been ill since he was born but deteriorated badly in his final year.
Mrs Delf, 37, told the two Duchesses about the kindness and dedication of staff at the hospice, who even got a vicar in and arranged for her and Stuart to renew their wedding vows to please Fraser, who had never understood why he was not in their wedding pictures.
‘They are just such amazing people, they really are. The care was amazing, not just towards Fraser making sure he was comfortable, but our wellbeing was met,’ she said.
Mr Delf, 42, said afterwards that Kate had revealed she was going to plant a sunflower in memory of Fraser at one of the EACH centres.
The sunflower has been adopted as the emblem of hospice care, a symbol of joy with the seeds representing patients and the surrounding petals love, care, and compassion.
Kate, who became patron of EACH in 2012, described the work of children’s hospices as ‘extraordinary’.
She added: ‘It’s a credit to the staff that they can provide the environment, the nurturing space for those families to help them go through long or short term care. It’s really awe-inspiring.’
She and Camilla were joined on the video call by Eddie Farwell, co-founder and chief executive of Children’s Hospice South West, and Clare Periton, chief executive of Helen & Douglas House, the world’s first children’s hospice. Camilla is patron of both charities.
They discussed how coronavirus has not only hit funding but also forced many of the UK’s 54 specialist children’s hospices to change their ways of working.
Mr Farwell, whose two children Kate and Tom both died from a rare degenerative disorder after spending time at Helen House in Oxford in 1991 and 1995, now runs three hospices in south west England.
The family said they had been inspired by the fundraising efforts of Captain Tom Moore during the coronavirus pandemic
He said: ‘Obviously most of our families are shielding very vulnerable people, young people, and not wanting many of them to venture from their homes.
‘So we’ve had to turn our family-based respite model into something else. We’re still open for emergency and end of life care but we’re working in the community, which is something we haven’t done before and which has been very welcomed and it’s been enormously successful. And it won’t surprise you to know that we are working virtually as well.’
Clare Periton, chief executive of Helen & Douglas House, added: ‘Our doctors have never done as many outreach visits and nor have our team. So a really different way of working and holding situations in the community which are much more complex than we would have dared to before.
Kate, who is patron of EACH, vowed to plant a sunflower for Fraser at one of the children’s centres (pictured, during a visit to the Nook in November 2019)
‘Some of our families just don’t want to come out of their homes. So actually it’s about putting them first and how we can look after them.
‘So all our staff are now wearing fun scrubs – and they look quite.. very kind of child friendly – and PPE.’
Camilla said: ‘We’d like to thank everybody that works for hospices across the UK for the incredible job you do and allowing families to treasure their moments together.’