Charity bike ride plan 'for Katie'

Next summer more than 100 people will be cycling down the Outer Hebrides by day and celebrating by night to raise money in the name of a special and much missed 11-year-old.

Dancer Katie McKerracher from Ettrickbridge near Selkirk died earlier this year from a inoperable tumour on her brain stem.

Her parents, Ann and Andrew, and brothers, Fergus and Bruce, will be among 120 of Katie's friends and family expected to cycle the Uists in July.

The McKerrachers have set up a charity in their daughter's name to help other parents who face the horror of their children being diagnosed with Diffuse Pontine Glioma.

"We used to go on holiday to the Uists and we thought that was what we would do when Katie got better," said Ann.

After Katie died they were going to go as a family, "then lots of people said they would like to do it as well" .

One family is even coming from France to take part in the adventure, cycling from North to South Uist and going on to Eriskay and Barra before returning to the mainland.

The Gaelic band, Bi Be will play one night of the four-day fundraising adventure. They have also dedicated 25p from every CD they sell of their new album to The Katie McKerracher Trust.

On the third night there will be a ceilidh in the Daliburgh village hall.

"Hopefully people will bring musical instruments – penny whistles, accordians – and join in.

"It's about trying to make it a social thing as well. It's for Katie and it's doing things she would have loved to have done," said Ann.

Katie was diagnosed with Diffuse Pontine Glioma last February.

"It's a horrible tumour and, thankfully, rare. There were three children with it in Edinburgh last year and we didn't get to speak to anybody who was going through the same thing."

It's one of the reasons they set up The Katie McKerracher Trust. For Ann and Andrew, technical operations director with Galashiels' Prostrakan, hope their experience will help others. They want the charity to support parents – from being at the end of the phone for advice or to talk about practical and financial help.

"Katie was in a wheelchair very quickly and I used to have to push her around and we never really thought about an electric chair."

But when they did, because of the nature of Katie's illness, companies would not sign lease agreements with the McKerrachers nor could they get one through the NHS.

"It's just so progressive. One parent once said to me, 'it's relentless' and it is, it's relentless. You never felt your head was above the water, particularly at the beginning."

Eventually the man who installed their stairlift rented them a wheelchair – and he will now help the charity by doing the same for other parents.

"She got it on Halloween last year. It was great to see her that night being able to go out under her own steam and follow her friends.

"But by the time we got the wheelchair organised she was only able to use it about half a dozen times."

Ann added: "The Trust gives you a focus and it makes you feel as though you are helping other people and doing something that Katie would have liked us to do. There is nothing we can do about what has happened to Katie.

"We are not looking for a cure – people like us aren't going to find a cure – we just want to be there for people in a way that can help them and maybe make the time they have slightly more bearable. Where decisions are made that make their life easier that day rather than six weeks down the line when things have got so much worse."

The first signs of the illness in Katie was when she was dizzy and started tripping and being sick in the mornings.

Medics stopped chemotherapy at the end of May after Katie's immune system became too low.

"By mid-June Katie couldn't eat or speak or move," said Ann.

She and Andrew then took her to healers and "she got back to going to the pub and having steak pie, and going to the cinema and she was able to do things. It was amazing."

But Ann and Andrew noticed her falter in September and Katie died at the end of January suffering from respiratory failure.

"We took her home that night. We just wanted to be home."

She was carried through the village to her funeral by a pony and trap driven by a woman who runs the Sports Driving Unlimited driving group at Lockerbie. And Katie's beloved 13.2hh pony Bennie now helps disabled people there to carriage drive.

The McKerrachers hope to work with medics to give out information specifically on Diffuse Pontine Gliomas at the time of diagnosis.

"Katie was 10 when she was diagnosed. She loved dancing, Highland, tap and stage dancing.

"Her dance teacher, Lesley McFarlane, said she was one of her best pupils – she just loved it and it gave her so much confidence because she knew she was good at it.

"She was really all these things people say, she was just such a lovely girl. Katie was everybody's friend, she just wanted a bit of fun."

Anyone wanting to help the charity should contact Ann and Andrew on info@katie or to make a donation visit www.justgiving. com/katiemckerrachertrust/