A baby born 12 weeks early proved a special mascot at a charity match inspired by his battle.
Reeve Keithley weighed just 2lbs8oz, and soon dropped to 2lbs4oz, after being born on November 6, 12 weeks ahead of his due date.
He spent 10 weeks in the specialist neonatal unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital before parents Sharmime Laughton, 32, and fiance David Keithley could take their baby boy home to South Hylton.
Now, to say thank you to the dedicated staff, David and his fellow team mates from Sunderland West End FC took part in a football match in aid of the unit, organised by charity champ Julie Reay from Barnes.
They took on Easington Colliery FC at the Ford Quarry playing fields, winning 3-2 and raising more than £1,000 for the cause.
David, who works as a gas fitter, said: “It was a really distressing time, but the staff were great and we got really close to them during Reeve’s time on the unit. Some of the nurses even came to the football match.”
Sharmime’s pregnancy had been going to plan until her waters broke unexpectedly while she was at home with David.
The pair rushed to Sunderland Royal Hospital where doctors informed the worried parents that Reeve’s heart rate was high and that he was in distress.
Doctors were forced to perform a Caesarean section to give the newborn a chance of life.
David said: “He was put on a ventilator as soon as he was born but the nurses soon told us that he was fine and stable. Because he was born so early his lungs were underdeveloped and he had to have a c pap machine to help with his breathing and build up his strength.”
Once he was able to come home, little Reeve had to have oxygen for a number of weeks but today he’s a happy, healthy nine-month-old who joined the other spectators at the charity football match.
David, who is also dad to Romany, 12 and Nolha, eight, said: “We are so thankful to the unit. Who knows what could have happened without them, some families are not as lucky as us.”
The match is the latest fundraiser organised by Julie Reay under her Peter David Lane Trust Fund, the charity she set up in honour of her son Peter, 13, who died in a tragic rope swing accident in 2002.
Since his death, Julie has channelled her grief to raise more than £150,000 for good causes in Wearside.
She said: “We chose the unit to benefit from this year’s charity match because of the exceptional work they do, especially in saving Reeve’s life. Staff like that are a blessing to parents who are going through a difficult time.”
Julie, who organises a charity match with the non-league teams each year, said: “I must say a special thanks to all at Sunderland West End and Easington Colliery FC for their continued support and all the helping hands on the night, which made it all come together.
“Also to all those who donated raffle prizes and goods for the refreshment tables. It was an amazing night.”