Family and friends doing Great North Run in memory of loved one

A group of family and friends are tackling the Great North Run in memory of a loved one who required the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS).

Derek Heslop, affectionately known as Dez, was only 23 years old when he slipped and fell 15ft from a roof in South Shields and sustained a severe head injury.

This was his fourth day in his new role as a roofer, and his partner Rebecca Ward was six months pregnant with their first child.

Recalling the incident Rebecca, from Consett, said: “GNAAS were first on the scene and airlifted him straight to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle where he remained in an induced coma for seven days.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive after everyone’s best efforts but if it wasn’t for the air ambulance acting as quickly and efficiently as they did he would never have stood a chance.”

Dez sadly passed away in February 2014 but ever since, his family and friends have honoured his memory by running the Great North Run.

The group call themselves ‘Bees Knees’ and have raised thousands of pounds over the years for GNAAS to thank them for helping Dez.

Ten have already bought charity places for the Great North Run this year (which are available to purchase here on our website) and here they explain why they have signed up:

Colin Staples (Dez’s uncle)

“The first time I ran the Great North Run was in 1986 and overall I have ran it 10 times now. Over the past few years I have ran to support GNAAS after the great support given by them to my nephew Derek Heslop who sadly passed away after a freak accident at work. The feeling while running it with family members and the support of Derek’s friends also running is very hard to put into words, other than you go through so many emotions with memories of Derek while running; laughter, tears and joy and then the achievement you have while crossing with everyone, along with knowing you have also helped support an amazing cause.”

Natasha Heslop (Dez’s sister)

“When I lost my big brother Derek in 2014 it completely shook my world. I organised a number of charity events to raise money for GNAAS and in 2018 I signed up to my first Great North run and ran/walked/hobbled it (unknowingly) pregnant with my first child. The support of the crowds and the other runners is amazing and believe me when I say you do not need to be a runner to complete it! In 2019 I went along to watch and said “I would love to do this again.” The next thing I know my mam and uncle booked me and my cousins charity spaces and I was signed up for 2020 entry. Covid hit so 2020 was off the cards and by 2021 I had just given birth to my second child. I went along to cheer team “Bees Knees” on in 2022 and I remember what a buzz the full day was, from start to finish. I signed up on the day in the GNAAS charity tent for 2023, you won’t find a more grateful supportive team. This time I will have my two children at the finish line and my big brother watching over me. I recommend if anyone does anything in their life it is to do one Great North Run.”

Mark Dobson (Dez’s friend)

“I’ve ran the Great North Run twice now for GNAAS and have signed up to do it again this year. GNAAS is a charity very close to my heart, they gave Dez the best possible chance of surviving after a tragic accident. Unfortunately he lost his battle. Running for GNAAS is like a big thank you for their efforts. The buzz on the day seeing everyone cheering each other on and the satisfaction you achieve for completing the race is second to none. Hence why I’ve signed up again and again.”

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