A WOMAN who helped hundreds of town families to cope with the loss of their babies has died after a freak accident at home.
Val Lake tragically choked on a sandwich at her Hartlepool home and despite being rushed into hospital she never recovered.
In a touching tribute to her mum, Val’s daughter, Joanne Morton-Lake, said: “She used to call all those babies her angels.
“We’ll she’s up there with her angels now.”
Val, 70, founded the Hartlepool Baby Bereavement Service in 1994, offering support for families who had suffered the devastation of losing a child.
She was diagnosed with dementia over two years ago, and Joanne took over the running of the service.
The accident happened last Friday lunchtime, and Val’s heart stopped for 15 minutes.
She was rushed to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, and placed on a ventilator.
But medics were unable to save her, and died at 11.30pm on Sunday night.
Joanne, 51, added: “The form of dementia she had was very aggressive, so we had been told if she came around then the illness coupled with the damage that had been caused by her heart stopping would have left her in a vegative state.
“She had been on a ventilator, but she was taken off it and she never recovered.
“We had been to see her all weekend, then we got a phone call telling us to go back to the hospital at 11.10pm on Sunday.
“We missed her by five minutes. I’m certain she heard that phone call being made asking for her family to go back. She wouldn’t have wanted us to see her take her last breath.
“She went on her own terms.”
Val, a former nurse and midwife, was awarded an MBE in 1997 for services to the Baby Bereavement Service.
But Joanne said the honour never changed her, and she remained humble and determined to help others.
“She was a fighter and very headstrong, and as long as she was helping others she was happy.
“When she was awarded the MBE, she thought it was a prank at first. She couldn’t understand why she was given it, as far as she was concerned she was just doing her job.
“She was a listener, and she cared for the people she dealt with. We have had a huge amount of cards and messages since she died, and that shows how highly she was thought of.
“From a family point of view, she was a wonderful mum and a wonderful grandma.
“We are all absolutely devastated.
“When her dementia took hold two and a half years ago, I took over the running of the service.
“She fought so hard for that service, and I cna’t let her legacy go now.”
Val leaves her husband Colin, son Jeff, 52, as well as Joanne and grandaughters Sophie, 21, and 18-year-old Elizabeth.
She is also survived by her mum Doris Dixon, who is 97.
Her funeral will take place at St Hilda’s Church on the Headland on Thursday, July 17, at 11.15am and will be followed by a cremation at Stranton Grange.