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Hiking Hens raise over £14,000 at ‘Loop for Luke’ as fundraising goal for vaccine nears reality

"The hike was such a great day and the love and encouragement from everyone on the day was overwhelming."

Photos by Kerrianne Parr

A women’s hiking group have raised over £14,000 towards funding a precious vaccine after their ‘Loop for Luke’ saw 200 walkers take part.

Rostrevor-based hiking group, The Hiking Hens undertook the 15km loop along ‘The Fallow Line’ on September 24, to raise money to help secure a life-altering vaccine for the son of one of their ‘hens’.

In the process, the hens managed to raise a staggering £14,317.49 for the cause, bringing 200 walkers out to take part in the massive, community-led fundraising effort.

The ‘Loop’ was organised in aid of Luke Johnston, the son-in-law of hen, Deirdre Morgan, who in March 2023, received the devastating diagnosis of Stage-4 glioblastoma following the discovery of a brain tumour, at just 35 years of age.

The news came just one year on from his wedding to ‘wonderful’ wife Niamh.

It’s hoped that a ground-breaking new vaccine known as DCVAX-L could help to extend Luke’s precious time, however, the treatment is expensive, as it costs somewhere in the region of £150,000 – £250,000 and is not currently available on the NHS.

Since learning of the vaccine, Luke’s friends and family have rallied together and a JustGiving page has been opened to help coordinate the fundraising for the wide variety of events that have been organised.

The ‘Loop for Luke’ was organised by Maria O’Grady and Biddy Higgins, supported by hens Ann Rice, Fiona McGivern and Edna Grant and Deirdre Morgan.

Photos by Kerrianne Parr

Following the event, the Hiking Hens took to social media to thank all those who supported Luke’s Loop.

They said: “Well done to everyone that took part in Luke’s Loop. It was a great turn out, might have been a bit wet but the craic was good. We hope everyone enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

“We want to thank so many amazing people behind the scenes and for all the hard work to make Luke’s Loop happen.”

‘Loop for Luke’ was the last fundraising event organised by the Hiking Hens, with co-founder Maria O’Grady saying that they “went out with a bang”.

She said: “It went really, really well. I’m chuffed to bits. We were quite overwhelmed with the turnout that came. People travelled from all over Northern Ireland to come walking with us. My brother and his friend even came over from Manchester!

“I think it’s just amazing that the community has come together to help this young couple.”

So far, the JustGiving page has surpassed £100,000, nearing the final goal of £150,000.

Said Maria: “We’re very thankful for the support that we’ve had from local businesses and from Warrenpoint Port, who sponsored the event.”

She continued: “I think Luke and Niamh are overwhelmed with the support of Rostrevor and the wider community.”

Photos by Kerrianne Parr

The fundraising doesn’t stop now, however, as a walk has been organised in England, where Luke and Niamh live.

Later in October, Luke himself will be participating in the ‘March to the Arch’, which is a walk from Exeter to Wembley to watch England vs Italy. The walkers taking part will take on the challenge of walking an average of a marathon a day every day for eight days.

Niamh, on behalf of herself and Luke, said: “Maria, Biddy and the team of incredible women, including my mum, from day one have supported us and came together to organise this incredible event.

“The hike was such a great day and the love and encouragement from everyone on the day was overwhelming.

“We can’t say thank-you enough. The Hiking Hens are a community themselves and we have learnt more than most over the past few months just how important it is to have the strength and love of community behind us to keep us going.”

You can still donate to the campaign for a vaccine for Luke using the JustGiving link here.

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