‘For John to hear his grandchild’s heartbeat meant the world to us’

John Stevenson, Mary Stevenson and Rebecca Peak at the Great North Run in 2007
John Stevenson, Mary Stevenson and Rebecca Peak at the Great North Run in 2007
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This week it was revealed that dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are now the biggest cause of death in England and Wales after overtaking heart disease. GAYLE ROUNCIVELL looks at the touching tale of a man battling Alzheimer’s Disease who managed to hear his unborn grandchild’s heartbeat before his lost his fight for life.

A man who was hours away from death managed to hear his unborn grandchild’s heartbeat before he passed away.

John Stevenson, 69, died surrounded by his family after a 17-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

His daughter, Rebecca Peak, was seven months’ pregnant at the time and was devastated that he wouldn’t get to meet her first child.

To help ease her grief, staff at Hillcroft Nursing Home in Galgate, near Lancaster, borrowed a Doppler machine from a nearby GP surgery and were able to play him his grandchild’s heartbeat hours before he died.

This helped to console Rebecca, 33, and brought peace to all of John’s family.

John’s battle with Alzheimer’s began when he was diagnosed at just 52.

He made it his mission to campaign for more awareness and for research to be carried out.

When he was given the horrifying news about his condition, John lived in Royston, Hertfordshire, with his wife Mary and worked as a chartered surveyor.

Mary recalls: “He found that he was getting very muddled with numbers and then one day he came into the lounge and he said to me ‘What’s that?’ and was pointing at the sideboard. Shortly after that he took himself off to the doctor.”

When the diagnosis was confirmed Mary was heartbroken, but John took it in his stride.

After more research the couple decided to move to Ambleside, as John had a passion for outdoor life.

He kept himself busy and enjoyed fell walking. He even managed to complete the Great North Run three times and appeared in a BBC documentary Horizon – How Does Your Memory Work.

Losing his memory was a gradual process for John, and he managed to remain at home with Mary for 11 years before she sought help from Hillcroft Nursing Home.

Mary says: “The staff were absolutely superb. I don’t think he would have lasted as long as he did without the staff at that home.”

After six-and-a-half years John’s health deteriorated and his family were dealt the devastating news he didn’t have much longer to live.

He was moved to Hillcroft’s Galgate home for end of life care and passed away on September 24.

Mary says: “Over the years we faced a lot of challenges with John, as dementia is still not fully understood.

“It’s hard to say if he knew who we were by the end as he could no longer speak.

“But there was one night when he was in the Galgate home and I turned to him and said I was going to go home for the night and he grabbed my arm and looked at me just as I was about to leave. I decided to stay after that.”

Speaking about Rebecca’s experience, Mary says: “For her dad to hear her first child’s heartbeat meant the world to Rebecca as she was very close to him.

“It was a very emotional time for us all.”