Dawn Geddes talks to the fund-raisers taking a tuk tuk to Turkey
Dawn Geddes meets a family on a mission to Turkey to raise awareness of the risks of epilepsy.
WHEN Emily Sumaria died five years ago at the age of just nineteen, her family didn’t know that Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) was even a possibility.
Now mum Rachel, dad Bharat, older sister Amy and Amy’s boyfriend James are travelling over 6,000 kilometres in a tuk tuk to raise awareness of SUDEP and the risks associated with it, to help reduce the number of preventable deaths.
I interrupted the family’s travels to speak to Amy and find out more about their unique fund-raising mission.
“We started thinking about a project that we could do in Emily’s memory about a year ago. We really wanted to do something as a family. We’ve always been very tight-knit, so it felt appropriate to do something for her together.
“We wanted it to be something bright and colourful which would really grab people’s attention, as well as their hearts and minds.”
The family came up with the idea of driving a tuk tuk from London through Europe as a way of highlighting the number of deaths that are caused by SUDEP every week.
“In the UK, twenty-one people die epilepsy-related deaths each week, so we thought, why don’t we drive through twenty-one countries?
“We were considering that idea, and that led us to a final destination of Turkey, which is perfect because Istanbul is where East meets West, and Emily and I are half Indian, half English. So it seemed like a lovely nod to our heritage. Being half Indian is also the reason we chose a tuk tuk in the first place.”
Setting off from the UK on September 8, the Sumarias face six weeks of travelling before they reach Turkey.
The family have garnered a huge amount of support, both through their social media efforts and from their family and friends – many of whom will be there to cheer them on when they eventually reach Istanbul.
I ask Amy what it’s been like for the family, travelling such a distance together in cramped conditions.
“For the first week or so we were finding our feet and getting into a rhythm. I haven’t spent this much time with Mum and Dad since I went to university!
“It’s been so lovely being all together for the ride, and we’ve spent so much time talking about Emily.
“We were in Slovenia the other day. They had these rickety bridges that went across the river and it reminded us of a time in Kenya when we had to cross this really shaky bridge over crocodileinfested waters. You could only cross over one person at a time.
“Emily was only about six at the time, and Mum told her that she must hold on to the sides, but as soon as she got on she removed her hands and just strolled along! It’s been so nice to pause and reflect on all of the amazing memories we have of her.”
When I talk to Amy, the family have just arrived in Mostar, having driven for nine hours along the windy Croatian coastline. I ask her how the tuk tuk fares in challenging conditions.
“When you drive uphill it is incredibly slow, but it will eventually get you to the top! Windy conditions are difficult to drive through, too, especially on coastal roads.
“When the wind blows really hard, it pushes the tuk tuk sideways because it’s so light. Those have been the most stressful drives, but most of the time it’s been a dream.”
Although the family admit to being quite tired after already driving an epic distance, Amy says that their scenic journey through Europe has been fascinating – and a special way to remember Emily.
By the time they reach Turkey, the Sumarias and James are hoping to have raised a total of £120,000, which will be donated to the charity SUDEP Action.
“SUDEP Action was a real life-line for us when Emily died. They specialise in helping families who have suffered a bereavement due to epilepsy, providing free counselling – something which I benefited from hugely.
“It is an amazing charity. They help to get research off the ground, support families like ours and create awareness of SUDEP. And so much of our trip is about just that.
“We can raise money and know the exact metrics of that, but we’ll never know how many people we’ve helped by creating more awareness of SUDEP. Even if we’ve just helped one person, we’ll have made a difference.”
For more information about the Sumarias’ tuk tuk journey, or to donate to their fund-raising campaign, visit https:// tuktuktoturkey.com/. ■
The Sumaria family and James are hoping to raise £120,000.
The journey will take six weeks.
The Sumaria family all together.
Emily Sumaria in happier times.