Dad hears unborn grandchild’s heartbeat hours before he dies from Alzheimer’s

John Stevenson, Mary Stevenson and Rebecca Peak pictured after the Great North Run in 2007.
John Stevenson, Mary Stevenson and Rebecca Peak pictured after the Great North Run in 2007.

A man who was hours away from death managed to hear his unborn grandchild’s heartbeat before he passed away.

John Stevenson, 69, died surrounded by his family after a 17-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

John Stevenson.

John Stevenson.

His daughter Rebecca Peak was seven months pregnant at the time and was devastated that he wouldn’t get to meet her first child.

To help ease her, staff at the Hillcroft Nursing Home in Galgate borrowed a Doppler machine from a nearby doctor’s surgery and were able to play him his grandchild’s heartbeat hours before he died.

This was something that consoled Rebecca, 33, and brought peace to all of his family.

John’s battle with Alzheimer’s first began when he was diagnosed at just 52 years old. He then made it his mission to campaign for more awareness and for more research to be carried out.

Rebecca Peaks baby scan. The gender of the baby is unknown.

Rebecca Peaks baby scan. The gender of the baby is unknown.

When he was dealt the horrifying news John lived in Royston, Hertfordshire, with his wife Mary and worked as a chartered surveyor.

Mary said: “He found that he was getting very muddled with numbers and then one day he came into the lounge and he said to me “what’s that?” and was pointing at the sideboard. Shortly after that he took himself off to the doctor’s.”

When the diagnosis was confirmed Mary was “heartbroken”, but John took it in his stride.

After more research the couple decided it would be best to move to Ambleside as John had “this passion for outdoor life.”

John Stevenson with his daughter Rebecca Peak pictured after the Great North Run in 2007.

John Stevenson with his daughter Rebecca Peak pictured after the Great North Run in 2007.

He kept himself busy and enjoyed fell walking. During those early years, he even managed to complete the Great North Run three times and appeared in the documentary, Horizons – How Does Your Memory Work, produced by the BBC.

Losing his memory was a gradual process for John and he managed to remain at home with Mary for 11 years before she sought help from Hillcroft Nursing Home in Lancaster.

Mary said: “The staff were absolutely superb; I don’t think he would have lasted as long as he did without the staff at that home.”

After six-and-a-half years John’s health deteriorated and his family were dealt the devastating news that he didn’t have much longer to live.

Mary and John Stevenson in New York when Rebecca was taking part in the New York Marathon, 2008.

Mary and John Stevenson in New York when Rebecca was taking part in the New York Marathon, 2008.

He was moved to Hillcroft’s Galgate home for end of life care and passed away on September 24.

Mary said: “Over the years we faced a lot of challenges with John as dementia is still not fully understood. It’s hard to say if he knew who we were by the end as he could no longer speak.

“But there was one night when he was in the Galgate home and I turned to him and said I was going to go home for the night and he grabbed my arm and looked at me just as I was about to leave. I decided to stay after that.”

Speaking about Rebecca’s experience, Mary said: “For her dad to hear her first child’s heartbeat meant the world to Rebecca as she was very close to him – it was a very emotional time for us all.”