"Maria loved staying at Francis House with her brother and it gave me a peace of mind that no other place did."
Sumaira Mahmood, Maria's mum
When Francis House Children’s Hospice asked its supporters to take on a walking challenge to help raise funds, kind-hearted Maria was one of the first to sign up and has raised a staggering £3,363.
After walking the ‘Lymm Loop’ an eight-mile circular route from Lymm Village, Maria and her mum Sumaira Mahmood felt tired but fulfilled. As they headed home to Stretford snow began to fall in fluffy clumps.
“It felt like Hasan was throwing confetti on us. It was just magical,” said Sumaira.
Hasan was born in 2004 with a neurological condition Lissencephaly, meaning “smooth brain”. Symptoms of the disorder include developmental delay, reduced muscle tone, partial blindness and epilepsy. Hasan was non-verbal but could say ‘mum’.
In 2019, a neurologist referred Hasan to Francis House - a relief to Sumaira, a podiatrist at the NHS Manchester Foot Hospital in Rusholme, who had struggled to find the level of care she needed for her son.
To her delight, Maria and Hasan settled immediately into the home from home environment at the Didsbury based hospice.
“On my first respite stay at Francis House, I felt that the staff took their caring responsibility very seriously. I was relaxed because I felt Hasan was in safe caring and professional hands.
“I saw Maria feeling comfortable with other siblings who have disabled brothers or sisters. I could see the confidence in her face when she realised that she was not the only child whose brother could not walk or play with her and that it was normal to feel the way she was feeling.
“She loved staying there with her brother and it gave me a peace of mind that no other place did. I remember saying to myself ‘Francis House - where have you been all my life?’.
Maria’s dad Ansar, dogs Daisy and Lucy and a family friend joined the pair setting off from Lymm Village car park, following the Bridgewater Canal path and walking established tracks through Dunham Massey National Trust and the Trans Pennine Trail.
With temperatures of -1 to 2C stretches of the canal path were frozen. Seeing a goose landing on the water, before sliding on the ice and crashing into the other geese caused much hilarity in a walk that took 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete.
“With this walk Maria has really pushed her boundaries to make a difference to other families with special needs so that they too can make the most of the time they’ve got and make precious memories together,” said Sumaira.
Francis House which cares for the families of children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions from across Greater Manchester costs £4.7 million a year to run.
A pupil at Manchester High School for Girls, Maria has always thought of others; keeping extra stationary in her pencil bag just in case anyone forgets theirs and offering her birthday money for charities like Children in Need.
Caring for a child with a life-limiting condition can have a profound effect on every member of the family but Maria developed a very special bond with Hasan.
Sumaira explained: “When Hasan was being difficult with me, Maria used to take over and calm him down. Hasan used to listen to her and sometimes preferred to be fed by her.
“Maria made us proud so many times, she was very brave when Hasan had admissions to hospital. She really wanted to be part of the difficult times and to help him get through it. She baked brownies for the staff and wanted to stay with him to keep him positive.
“Hasan was a very happy social boy he loved one to one attention. He knew how to use his long eye lashes to flirt with all the ladies around him and absolutely loved making the most of all the attention.
“If there had not been the COVID-19 pandemic and he had more time he would have celebrated his 16th birthday at Francis House.”
Hasan was rushed to hospital in April 2020 and later diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscles. On July 25, he died at home in his sleep at the age of 15 years and 11 months.
“Maria used to avoid the places that triggered her memories of Hasan. But now she is ready to speak to those who are in the same place of losing siblings. She looks forward to meeting up at Francis House with the other children when the sibling support sessions are up and running after lockdown.”
Maria would like to thank all her family and friends from the UK and abroad for supporting her.
More than 40 people took part in the Winter Wander challenge raising in excess of £6,000.
To discover ways of getting involved with Francis House visit https://www.francishouse.org.uk/get-involved/