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Meet the men raising awareness of the 'devastation, fears and mental scars' of premature birth

The team are raising funds for research into premature birth

premature baby hand
Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
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This 17 November is World Prematurity Day: a movement to raise awareness of premature birth and the impact it can have on the baby and their families. One in 13 babies is born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

READ: Tana Ramsay reveals shock of premature birth: 'My world was upside down'

We often hear women talk about babies born prematurely, and now four men are speaking on the subject - as well as undertaking an incredible challenge to help raise £200k for research into premature birth.

Long-term friends Dean Frost, Philip Bigland, Mac McCarthy and Jason Kerr will be rowing the Atlantic in December in a boat called Elijah’s Star, in memory of a child named Elijah, who was born prematurely and who died at 37 days.

atlantic boat

The four friends and their boat which they will cross the Atlantic in

They are aiming to cross the Atlantic in the same 37 days to reflect the impact of the life cut short. Their 28-foot boat has been liveried in the names of sponsors' children who were born prematurely and who have gone on to live normal lives or tragically passed away within months of their birth.

READ: Royal mums' dramatic birth stories: The Queen, the Countess of Wessex & Zara Tindall

The friends have been training for two years for the 3,000-mile journey, which will see them row in a 28-foot boat in continuous shifts of two hours of rowing and two hours of sleep.

Each one has been following a demanding training regime for the last 18-months while balancing senior roles in the army and in corporate organisations, as well as family life.

prematue baby awareness© Photo: iStock

17 November is World Prematurity Day

Phil Bigland, a father of 2 from Malmesbury, says: "We are rowing the Atlantic to raise awareness and £200,000 to help fund two long term research projects that can potentially change the lives of babies not yet born. Despite affecting 10% of all births and being the biggest killer of children under five globally, premature birth attracts almost no research funding.

"Having personally seen the devastating impact that premature birth has on babies and the family, I wanted to help raise much-needed money for medical research. All four of the crew have been touched by premature birth either directly or via close friends, hence our bid to cross the Atlantic for a cause we care about.

"Our sights are on rowing the 3,000 miles in 37 days as those 37 days represent the short life of baby Elijah, after whom our team is named: Elijah’s Star. Elijah was born at 25 weeks and three days, weighing just 823g and lived for just 37 days. This is a significant number for the entire crew as it’s a reminder that premature birth is defined as 37 weeks or less."

READ: Royals speak out about miscarriage and baby loss: Meghan Markle, Sophie Wessex, Zara Tindall

world prematurity day© Photo: iStock

One in 13 babies is born prematurely

Jason Kerr, a father of 2 from West Byfleet told us: "I’ve been very fortunate to have two children who were born without complications; however, I have close friends who have been through the devastation, the fears and mental scars that premature birth leaves behind.

"All too often premature birth is focussed on the mother and yet it also has an inordinate effect on the father too as I've seen from friends and work colleagues. Bringing a voice for men to premature birth, as well as raising money for a cause we all deeply care about, is why we are taking on this monumental endurance event.

"This row has been in the planning for two years, the training is rigorous and the thought of rowing two hours on and two hours off consecutively over the 3,000 miles for more than a month is becoming a very daunting reality as we leave on 12th December."

The friends are taking part in the Talisker Whisky Challenge, recognised as the world's toughest row covering more than 3,000 miles between the start in the Canary Islands and the end point in Antigua and Barbuda.

To help raise funds for research into premature birth and to follow the progress of the race, click here:

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