One-day-old baby died in Leeds parents' arms: Bid to keep daughter's memory alive

A couple whose world fell apart when their one-day-old baby daughter died in their arms have created a lasting legacy by fundraising to keep her memory alive.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 6:00 am
Claire and Andrew McLennan with daughter Ophelia Photo: Steve Riding

Claire and Andrew McLennan's first daughter Alexandra did not have a heartbeat when she was born by emergency caesarean section at 42 weeks at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) on September 29 2015.

Alexandra had suffered catastrophic brain damage due to a lack of oxygen after the placenta stopped working and she died in her parents' arms at the hospital the following day.

Claire, 35, and Andrew, 34, of Roundhay, donated Alexandra's heart valves to Great Ormond Street Hospital and at least one has been used in a transplant.

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Claire and Andrew McLellan pictured in hospital with baby daughter Alexandra

Alexandra's heart tissue was donated for research.

And the couple have raised around £10,000 in her memory for charities including the newborn intensive care unit at LGI.

The couple, who now have a three-year old daughter called Ophelia, have welcomed the introduction of Jack's Law.

The government has passed legislation in the Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay Act, which means working parents whose child dies will have the statutory right to a minimum of two weeks’ paid leave.

Claire and Andrew McLennan and daughter Ophelia, three, who is holding her late baby sister Alexandra's teddy. Photo: Steve Riding

From April 6, all employed parents whose child dies or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer, will be eligible under the new law.

Andrew McLennan, who works as a software engineer, was not legally entitled to paid leave after Alexandra's death

However, his employer granted him two weeks paid paternity leave.

Andrew said: "This new legislation means hopefully parents won't be worrying about keeping a roof over their head when they are going through the worst of times.

"It is basic human dignity and decency that people should be allowed time to grieve for their loved ones."

Claire said: "I was entitled to my maternity leave because Alexandra's was a neonatal death."

"Jack's Law is brilliant. I think it is a really good start. It just removes that little bit of pressure right in the immediate aftermath.

"It is fantastic that it has been introduced. It will have a massive positive impact. If Andrew felt he needed to he could have taken the time to process what had happened rather than rush back to work.

"At the time he was running back to work to escape what had happened. In hindsight he would have taken more time to reflect on what had happened to him."

Claire, a legal secretary, said: "It was just awful. Alexandra was our first child. It was a low risk pregnancy. There were no warning signs that anything was about to go wrong.

"We went into hospital on the Monday night and we came home on the Thursday morning and the whole world had changed for us.

"We had gone through nine months of pregnancy and we weren't able to bring her home.

"It just seemed like the most unfair situation. It was very hard to process this huge thing that had happened to us."

Claire said the couple were helped by counselling sessions from Martin House Hospice at Wetherby, where a counsellor came to their home for ten sessions over a year.

The couple's second daughter Ophelia was born by a planned caesarean section at 38 weeks in October 2016.

They have raised more than £10,000 in Alexandra's memory through justgiving pages and fundraising events for the newborn intensive care unit at LGI, stillbirth and neonatal death charity SANDs, Martin House Hospice and Tommy's, which funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.

Claire said: "The team at Leeds General in the neonatal intensive care unit were amazing.

"The support they gave was wonderful and they are a credit to the NHS. We want to raise money to help buy equipment and supplies for the unit so they can continue to provide this level of wonderful care.

"It's a legacy. We can't buy Alexandra ridiculous outfits from the Disney Store, but we can raise money and share her story.

"We like to talk about her, because if we didn't people would forget about her.

"Beyond our immediate family no-one ever met Alexandra. We want to keep her memory alive."

Claire has written a blog called afteralexandra.co.uk telling the full story of what happened to her family.

She has also been a parent speaker at training days for SANDs and Beyond Bea, a charity which raises awareness of baby loss.

Clea Harmer, chief executive at Sands, said: “Having the legal right to two weeks of paid leave will make a big difference to bereaved parents affected by stillbirth or neonatal death; so we are very pleased that they have been specifically recognised in the Act.

“Now the Act is in place all employers need to ensure they know about this important change in the law and what additional support they can offer to bereaved parents in their workplace, as this is vital time for them in their grieving process."