Kingston firefighter runs marathon to raise funds for local NICU

Joseph Reid, a firefighter with Kingston Fire and Rescue, speaks at a cheque presentation at the NICU of KGH on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Photo by Dominic Owens.

Running a marathon is something that requires months of training, passion, and a lot of determination. For one local firefighter, those things were a must in completing a marathon, but he ran the race with a twist – donning full firefighting gear as he pushed through 49 kilometres.

The gear adds over 20 pounds, but it also goes beyond that, as the steel-toe boots aren’t comparable to running shoes, and the helmet doesn’t allow for the same freedom of motion most runners would have as they take on such a feat.

What inspires someone to want to do such a thing? Well, for Joseph Reid, a member of Kingston Fire and Rescue, it all came down to one thing: giving back to those who’d helped ensure his twin daughters would go on to lead healthy, happy lives.

Reid’s daughters, Cayden and Callie, were born prematurely at 27 weeks, weighing only 1 lb. 8oz. and 2 lbs. 1oz. The twins spent 100 of the first days of their lives in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Kingston General Hospital. And Reid credits that time and the care of the dedicated neonatal team at KGH with the fact his two daughters are the bright, happy girls they are today.

Wanting to give back to the unit and team that gave his girls a new lease on life, Reid ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, in an effort to raise funds and awareness of the NICU at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). With the community’s support and generous donations, Reid was able to present a cheque to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF) towards the NICU on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019.

“I think that today kind of feels like we’re paying them back – or starting to pay them back – for everything they’ve done for us,” Reid said.

Reid said that the pain he endured, the blisters he got, and the gruelling race at the end of it was all “trivial when compared to what the team at the NICU provided” for his family.

“I am grateful to be able to donate back. Everybody that donated for this run, we were able to provide it to them, so that they can use it to buy resources to help other families just like they did with us.”

Dr. Bob Connelly, a neonatologist and program director for pediatrics at KGH, explained that the NICU does not receive any sort of government funding for new equipment. One of only five such NICUs in the province (a level three NICU capable of treating the smallest of babies needing the most intensive care), the unit not only provides exceptional care for infants in need from Kingston and the area, it also acts as the go-to centre for many parents in need of such care throughout eastern and northern Ontario.

“As you can imagine, neonatal intensive care requires a lot of equipment, such as ventilators, monitors, IV pumps, that sort of thing,” Connelly said at the cheque presentation. “The direct result of donations like this is it enables us to buy that lifesaving medical equipment.”

Beyond that, Connelly said donations like the over $16,000 Reid presented today are “a real testament to the support we get from the community.”

“This is a tough job, and our nurses are at the bedside caring for very sick and fragile little babies, and, similarly, very stressed parents who were hoping and expecting a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby, they’re using our unit because that isn’t the case,” Connelly expressed. “We feel very supported when we see the public donate to us, and certainly it’s very touching when a former family comes back to give back to other families.”

Despite calling the marathon “just torture,” Reid reflected on the marathon and training with a smile and some laughs. Training for any marathon comes with its fair share of pitfalls, but training to run a marathon in full firefighter gear is another beast – and one that can draw some attention, he recalled.

“I wasn’t planning on doing all of the training in full gear, I was planning on doing it just one day a week, but the first time I put the gear on, it was so different than running shoes and shorts that I just thought, ‘I think the only way to get used to this stuff is to just wear it every time.’ So from week two on, I ran every run in full gear,” he said with a laugh.

“It did work out, I got used to the boots, they became the norm,” he continued. But seeing a man running in full firefighting gear remained not the norm for those around him.

“I did have a few cab drivers stop and ask me if I needed a ride. They actually thought that I was going to the hall. That happened four times,” he said, laughing.

Still, it was all worth it as he stood in the NICU and watched as his daughters held up a cheque for $16, 127.50.

“We spent three and a half months in here – 113 days, to be exact,” Reid said, his emotion evident in his voice. “They provided a level of care that… I have twin four-year-olds right now, arguably because of them.”

Kingston firefighter Joseph Reid stands behind his twin girls, Cayden and Callie, as they hold up a cheque for all the funds their father raised for the KGH NICU while surrounded by their mother and those from University Hospitals Kingston Foundation and Kingston Health Sciences Centre. Photo by Dominic Owens.

With files from Dominic Owens.

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