Olympian Alisa Camplin-Warner raises $2m in memory of her baby boy

Alisa Camplin-Warner and husband Oliver delivering a charity cheque to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.
Alisa Camplin-Warner and husband Oliver delivering a charity cheque to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.  Photo: supplied

When Winter Olympic gold medallist Alisa Camplin-Warner lost her baby son Finnan to congenital heart disease, she vowed to do everything she could to ensure other babies did not suffer the same fate.

Together with her husband Oliver, she started a charity in memory of Finnan. They hoped to raise $300,000 to purchase a machine for the hospital where the baby spent his short life.

Seven years later that charity, Finnan's Gift, has raised $2 million for the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, which treated Finnan after he was born with congenital heart disease.

Alisa Camplin-Warner, her husband Oliver and their son Finnan.
Alisa Camplin-Warner, her husband Oliver and their son Finnan.  

Camplin-Warner was 32 weeks' pregnant with her first child when she was stuck down with food poisoning.

Doctors decided to conduct a scan to check the baby. A further ultrasound the following day revealed a number of complex issues with the structure of the baby's heart.

"They said. 'There is a problem'," she says.

"By the following week we were in meetings with doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne to come up with a plan."

With fears the baby could go into cardiac arrest in the womb, doctors planned to deliver the baby by caesarean as soon as possible.

While her husband was fearful from the start, Camplin-Warner says she was certain that "modern medicine would save the day".

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Finnan Maximus Camplin-Warner arrived two weeks later and was rushed next door to the Royal Children's Hospital for emergency treatment, while the new mum was forced to stay behind.

"He had three surgeries in the first 36 hours," Camplin-Warner, who becomes emotional when reliving those heartbreaking days, explains.

But each improvement would be followed by another problem, in part due to his prematurity.

"We were starting to get optimistic as days went on. Then, on day 10, they said 'things are not looking positive'."

Finnan, who had endured six operations, had developed complications which he could not survive, doctors told them.

"They set up a bedroom for us. They placed him in a queen-size bed so we could spend one night together as a family," Camplin-Warner says.

"We didn't know how long we would have. In the end, we had him for 10 days."

Finnan's devastated parents went home from hospital without their baby, unable to understand how something so terrible could happen to them but knowing they had to find a way forward.

By the time they came back to the hospital a few days later to meet with the director of paediatric cardiology, Associate Professor Michael Cheung, they had already made up their minds to act.

Wanting to honour their son and support the doctors and nurses who fought so hard to save him, they set up the charity Finnan's Gift.

Camplin-Warner says the charity not only gave them something to focus on during those difficult early says, but gave their family and friends, and the wider community, a way to show their support.

"Everyone in our community was really taken aback by what happened, so Finnan's Gift actually gave everyone a vehicle to interact and engage and help," Camplin-Warner says.

At first, the couple hoped to raise $300,000 to purchase an echocardiography machine. When they reached that goal the same year, they decided to continue their fundraising efforts.

Now, every year around Finnan's birthday, they make a donation relating to a different department of the hospital which was involved in his care.

So far, the charity has funded education programs for the paediatric intensive care unit nurses; provided six near-infrared spectroscopy monitors; purchased new pumps for the heart/lung life support machines; upgraded the arrhythmia treatment equipment and funded new camera recording equipment for the cardiac surgery unit.

This year, the couple handed over a cheque for $200,000, which will be used to purchase an echocardiogram machine to treat childhood cancer patients whose hearts have been damaged by chemotherapy treatment.

Camplin-Warner says every donation or fundraising initiative is as much a "gift to them" as it is to the hospital, and she is heartened by the number of people who have contacted her over the years to tell their own stories of loss, or how equipment Finnan's Gift purchased for the hospital helped their child.

The couple went on to have two more children, Florence, now four and Felix, almost two, both of whom had minor issues with their hearts, which were picked up during regular scans throughout the nerve-racking pregnancies.

Florence's small hole in her heart corrected itself, while a small issue with Felix's heart appears to have resolved, but will need to be checked again when he is a teenager.

Camplin-Warner says they knew nothing about congenital heart disease prior to Finnan's diagnosis, and were shocked by the statistics.

"The fact is one in 100 children will be born with congenital heart disease. In Australia, that is eight kids born every day, or about 40,000 kids," she says.

"About 50 per cent will require some sort of corrective surgery, and it is the biggest killer of children under five in Australia."

The Olympian mum, who is also a successful businesswoman and a valued board member of the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation, which is the fundraising arm of the hospital, says she is grateful to everyone who has supported Finnan's Gift over the years.

"Finnan's Gift would not have become anything if it had not been for the hundreds and thousands of donors and fundraisers that have supported us, whether it was big or small, it makes a difference," she says.

"When I look back on the last seven years, I feel overwhelmingly proud and grateful at what has been achieved in Finnan's honour.

"We learnt so much from him in the 10 days he was with us and to have raised over $2 million for cardiac care in Finnan's name is quite humbling.

"To have reached this milestone is unbelievable."

Finnan's Gift relies entirely on donations, which can be made here: finnansgiftgofundraise.com.au