Olympian creates charity to honour dead son

Every Olympic athlete understands hardship and loss, but the Yukon’s Zach Bell, tragically, understands it better than most. A year ago, mere weeks after Bell’s return from the 2012 Olympics in London, his infant son Paxton died.

Every Olympic athlete understands hardship and loss, but the Yukon’s Zach Bell, tragically, understands it better than most.

A year ago, mere weeks after Bell’s return from the 2012 Olympics in London, his infant son Paxton died as a result of complications during his birth.

It was a crushing blow for the cyclist from Watson Lake and his wife, Rebecca. When he was born, Paxton had difficulty breathing and other serious problems. He was transferred to the BC Women’s Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit, where his parents waited in anguish while doctors tried to find a way to save him.

But they couldn’t.

“In the end they came to us with the most terrifying news I have ever received in my life,” father Zach said. “Our perfect boy who had grown just the way he should have during the nine months of pregnancy had everything robbed of him.”

Zach and Rebecca were forced to choose between letting their infant son struggle on life support, unlikely to survive, the doctors said, or pass away peacefully.

“After a fight that seemed to last an eternity, it was obvious he could not survive,” said Zach. “Paxton passed quietly cradled in his mother’s arms. The perfect picture of an infant that never had the chance to show his true colours. Even though our lives together were so short, Rebecca and I loved him and will continue to love him with all our hearts.”

In the wake of the tragedy, Zach and Rebecca resolved to find a way to honour their young son, and all the children who have been through the Newborn ICU, their lives cut short before they had a chance to live them.

The couple created the Paxton’s Lights of Hope campaign, an annual event to remember the families that have struggled with infant mortality and to raise funds for the BC Women’s Hospital.

Families can support the campaign by purchasing limited edition Paxton’s Lights of Hope candles at www.paxtonslights.com or www.bcwomensfoundation.org. The small votive candles, made by the Granville Island Candle Company, will burn for 50 hours each. They cost $15. Supporters can also make additional donations when they order their candles.

“We were trying to find a vehicle for creating a legacy in Paxton’s honour that would sort of carry on and help people who have been in similar situations, kind of give them a rallying point around which they could be engaged in a bit more of a positive way,” Zach said.

Orders placed by Oct. 5 will be delivered in time for Thanksgiving.

Bell hopes that the candles will become a fixture of family homes at Thanksgiving time, he said.

“If it’s successful maybe we can expand it to include other hospitals and other regions,” Bell said.

The plan is to make the annual candle drive more than just a fundraising effort. Bell hopes to one day create an event where people gather to share their stories and remember their lost loved ones, he said.

The BC Women’s Hospital is the only facility in the province with a mandate to provide comprehensive health care for women and newborn babies.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com