After Alex Hamilton and Karl Waddell’s son River Jak Adam passed away suddenly in his sleep at four months old, they knew they would do anything to spare families the same pain.
The couple launched River’s Gift the same year (2011) and the organisation is now the largest source of non-government funding for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) research in Australia; with their June 23 gala at Mt Duneed raising more than $100,000 alone.
“This is the fourth gala we’ve held and it far exceeded our expectations, we were just trying to exceed the profits from last year’s ($51,569). We had a pledge going online throughout the evening for funding of our University of Adelaide research project, and people were very giving,” Mr Waddell said.
“We had a few people in the room who were giving significant amounts of money, collectively a good portion of the room were contributing. It does blow you away, it’s incredibly moving.”
Mr Waddell said after losing River in November, 2011 they began looking for answers and realised how little information and research was dedicated to SIDS in Australia.
“We wanted to create and forge a path to fund SIDS research, at that time (River’s passing) we learned that there was very little attention and focus on funding research for SIDS. We felt we had to make a difference as parents of a SIDS baby.”
The recent Narnia themed gala saw Mt Duneed transformed into a mystical winter-wonderland, where 340 guests experienced an unforgettable evening, one that resonated deeply for some.
“People do approach us at the galas that have been affected by SIDS. We had other SIDS families in the room, a couple had come down from Queensland and from Perth. It certainly gives other families hope, they can see River’s Gift is an organisation that’s making a real difference and forging a pathway,” he said.
“We’ve set up Unite to SOS (Stamp Out SIDS), and that gives families the opportunity to being able to honour their own children with fundraising activities.
They get their own personal logo, and can host their fundraising event through our charity- with the money then going back to River’s Gift. It’s a way of spreading awareness across the country.”
Mr Waddell said Unite to SOS had recently been used by a mother in Ballarat who lost her five-month-old daughter Charlie to SIDS in April 2015.
“She hosted a bogan bingo night in Ballarat a week or two before the gala and raised $20,000,” he said.
Mr Waddell said his wife Alex is the driving force behind the gala’s various themes.
“The Narnia theme was my wife Alex’s idea, she is very theatrical, she trained as an actress so she’s very creative. She’s already got her mind thinking about next year’s gala. Last year we had 256 people attend and this year we had 340,” he said.
“It was an incredible evening – we feel we bring a special creative experience element to town; that big city experience like you’d see in Melbourne or London to Geelong.”
Mr Waddell said River’s Gift SOS (Stamp Out SIDS) funding had already led to groundbreaking international research by Dr Fiona Bright and Professor Roger Byard, Adelaide Medical School, University of Adelaide, in collaboration with Professor Hannah Kinney’s lab at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.
“We envisioned we’d start a movement and one day hopefully eradicate SIDS. It is a massive goal but we didn’t want other parents to have to undergo the pain and grief that we were undergoing,” he said.
For more information about River’s Gift or to donate go to riversgift.com.