THE COUSIN of a young mother who died of swine flu days after giving birth is taking on an extreme obstacle challenge to raise funds for the neonatal unit caring for her premature baby girl.

Nikki Westgarth, from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, died of the virus in February - four days after her second child, Eva Rose, was delivered by caesarean section at only seven months.

Eva-Rose, who weighed just over two pounds when she was born, remains at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, where her condition is steadily improving.

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She now weighs six pounds 11 ounces.

Keen to help in any way possible, Miss Westgarth’s cousin Melanie Hannant, 27, and two friends, Rachel Falconer, 30, and Fiona Henderson, 31, are taking on the 10K Mad Monk Extreme Challenge in Derby on Saturday, May 17, to raise money for the neonatal unit.

The friends, who all have young children of their own, also hope to raise awareness of the dangers of swine flu to encourage pregnant women to get the flu jab.

“What happened to Nikki was tragic,” said Miss Hannant. “I think more needs to be done to publicise the risks and it is heartbreaking that it takes a tragedy like this to get the message out there.

“We have been training a lot for the challenge but it is going to be tough. Hopefully it will be a fun too.”

Miss Westgarth first developed symptoms of swine flu, a seasonal flu virus, before Christmas but she initially attributed the tiredness as a side effect of pregnancy.

However, her condition deteriorated and she was eventually transferred to Glenfield Hospital in Leicester for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation treatment.

Sadly, the treatment, for severe respiratory failure, was not enough to save her.

The bubbly 21-year-old was a devoted mother to her four-year-old son, Jake Grimes, and also left behind partner George Burrell, and a large loving family.

As well as the obstacle challenge, which will see the women overcome water slides, muddy tunnels, hurdles, cargo nets and much more, Miss Westgarth’s friends and relatives have been knitting blankets for the neonatal unit.

Meanwhile, a collection at her funeral raised £560 for Glenfield Hospital.

Miss Westgarth’s mother, Kim Hannant, said: “I I think what the girls are doing is fantastic and very brave. I know Nikki would be over the moon too.”

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