Alberta man paddling across the Prairies in memory of grandchild lost to SIDS

It was a sunny and beautiful day Friday — ideal conditions to paddle on a river.

David Hatto, 78, is canoeing the North Saskatchewan River from Rocky Mountain House to Cumberland House, Sask., to raise money and awareness for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

“My granddaughter, Hazel, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.”

“I was always an outdoors person, and I thought, ‘OK, I am going to go on various different trips that are somewhat extreme, with the goal of providing more awareness of infant death.’”

The Jasper resident started the journey June 2 and arrived in the Town of Devon — southwest of Edmonton and about 1,000 kilometres from Cumberland House — earlier this week, where he set up camp and took a few days to recover.

“The extreme effort you have to put in a head wind and correction strokes to keep you headed in the right direction has paid havoc on my back so I am quite sore,” Hatto said. “Quite honestly, right now, I could easily quit because of my physical condition, but I won’t. I am going to keep doing very short days and relax my muscles as much as possible.”

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This is his third time doing a long journey in honour of Hazel. This first trip was in England, where he hiked the southwest coast path.

“I will never forget her and I will always try to do things in her honour.”

Hazel’s Heroes

Hatto is raising money for Hazel’s Heroes. It’s an organization, his daughter-in-law, Gillian Hatto, founded after losing Hazel to SIDS.

It holds weekend retreats in Kananaskis, Alta. for mothers who have lost a young child. Gillian said when Hazel died, she felt like there wasn’t enough supports.

“The pain changes your DNA and it changes every cell in you and when you lose a child you lose a huge piece of you,” she said.

“David is such an outdoorsy man and grandpa and he loves spending time with his grandkids. I know he likely would have been taken Hazel on a canoe trip about now.

“I think it helps him connect with brings a connection up he talks to everyone along the way and tells them about what he is doing and why he is doing it and he is raising so much awareness.”

Read more: ‘I just felt so alone’: Alberta mother fundraising for retreat for parents who lose young children

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Hatto said being able to go on the long adventures has helped him come to terms with not only the loss of Hazel but two other grandchildren.

“She is only one three granddaughters I lost to early infant death,” Hatto said.

“My other son, his wife was expecting twins, and one of them died in the womb. The other (granddaughter)… Hazel’s mom was pregnant again and (during) the prenatal examinations they found she had very serious genetic disorders… Lily was born and lived for half an hour.”

Read more: Cross-Canada canoe: 2 men and a dog embark on summer adventure

The Route

Hatto said if he does get to be in too much pain, he will end the trip early, but for now he plans to take it slow. He is not sure when he will arrive in Cumberland House, but the 78-year-old says competing the journey will be worth tolerating the physical pain that has come with it.

“I like to take all of my grandchildren when they reach the age that’s suitable on their first real outdoor experience, and I guess I see all these as being Hazel’s outdoor experiences.”

Hatto is not sure when he will arrive in Cumberland House, but he is posting his journey on a blog called Hazel’s Helper.


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