THE Sunday Mercury’s famous Give A Child Heath Fund was founded in 1953 when it was recognised that time spent at high altitude significantly improved the health of youngsters with breathing difficulties.
The Mercury had already reported how philanthropic confectioner Christian Kunzle helped to fund boys suffering from asthma to be treated at the Davos clinic in Switzerland.
Mr Kunzle was originally from Switzerland, but made a fortune from producing Kunzle cakes at his factory in Birmingham and wanted to thank the city.
After our story appeared, however, young tuberculosis sufferer Brenda Jobson contacted the newspaper to ask why girls couldn’t go.
In response Freddie Whitehead, Sunday Mercury editor at the time, started a fund known as Give A Girl Health – mainly so that Brenda could attend the Davos clinic.
Such was the response to the appeal that arrangements were made to keep the fund going.
Editor Whitehead discovered that the Red Cross had access to beds at Davos and, with the help of the Red Cross in Birmingham and the city’s Children’s Hospital, began sending up to half a dozen asthmatic girls for treatment at a time.
When Christian Kunzle died, the boys he had been helping were out on a limb, so the Fund included them too.
Dr John Morrison Smith, a chest physician at the Birmingham Chest Clinic determined which children with severe asthma should be sent to Davos and the Pyrenees.
In the early 1970s asthma treatments were very limited and death rates from the condition were high.
The Red Cross made all the travel arrangements and accompanied the children to the clinics.
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Through the 1980s and 1990s, the fund still sent children for the long summer school holiday to an asthma clinic in the French Pyrenees – but started devoting most of its funds to the treatment of Cystic Fibrosis and lung-related illness at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
In 1995, the fund was established as a registered charity and changed its name to The Give A Child Health Charitable Trust.
Two years later, the readers of the Sunday Mercury raised £110,000 to equip and run a lung function laboratory at the new Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
In the 2000s, the charity continued to help children via its links with the Children’s Hospital.
Patients aged from birth to 16 come mainly from Birmingham and the Black Country but such is the hospital’s reputation and expertise that children from all round the world travel for treatment.
Among the major investments were the funding of the new £470,000 Respiratory Unit at the Children’s Hospital, which opened in 2013, and a £124,070 investment to fit out the Ocean Ward at the hospital in 2016.
Other projects have included the funding of eczema and podiatry nurses, the purchase of testing equipment, funding vital research, as well as paying for breathing aids, hoists and other helping hand gear for individual children.
But it’s not just the Children’s Hospital readers have helped. In 2012, Give A Child Healt h widened its operations with the announcement of a new Equipment Fund.
The first grant of £12,000 was made to the Heart of England Foundation Trust, paying for 14 state-of-the-art machines, reducing treatment time for youngsters at Heartlands Hospital in Bordesley Green, where patients include those suffering from Cystic Fibrosis, asthma, sleep apnoea and obesity-related breathing problems.
Throughout its long history, the Give A Child Health Fund has been solely funded by the generosity of Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Mail readers.
Money ranging from pocket money donations to bequests has come from well-wishers.
One particularly memorable donation came from Doris Rone-Clarke, who sent asthma-suffering daughter Lynn to a specialist clinic in Switzerland in 1962, thanks to Give A Child Health.
When she passed away, at the age of 91, she left her £500,000 estate to Give A Child Health, to help other sick children.
It was a huge boost to the Fund, and helped facilitate the transformation of facilities at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.