Reality TV

My Kitchen Rules stars Carly and Tresne open up on life after the passing of their daughter Poppy

The former contestants are keeping Poppy's legacy alive.
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It was never meant to end like this. Carly Saunders and Tresne Middleton, former stars of My Kitchen Rules, had long dreamed of taking their baby daughter Poppy Grace home from hospital, cured of the leukaemia that had plagued her since she was 11 weeks old.

But after a lifetime of fighting and countless treatments, Poppy Grace passed away on February 16, aged 20 months.

“I lost my brother in 2017 and my mum two years later, but nothing could prepare us for the grief of losing Poppy,” Carly tells Woman’s Day.

Carly and Tresne are keeping Poppy’s legacy alive.

(Image: Phillip Castleton)

DEVOTED MUMS

During the time Poppy was in hospital, her devoted mums documented her every win and challenge online, and she had wellwishers from all over the world spurring her on.

“She was so tough and happy it didn’t matter what was happening,” says Carly. “She could have been in surgery or vomited 20 times but afterwards she’d be smiling and laughing with the nurses. She lifted people up even though she was having a hard time – she was a special little person.”

The Newcastle couple, who spent 534 days in hospital with their daughter and almost two years in isolation with her, suddenly had a whole new world to face. And, without Poppy in it, life didn’t feel right anymore.

“Someone broke into our yard and stole from our car the night of Poppy’s funeral, so we didn’t even feel safe at home,” says Carly.

Baby Poppy sadly spent most of her life in hospital.

(Image: Supplied)

“We needed to get away – we went to Thailand for six weeks. It was important to have time with each other while we got our heads around our new world.”

The pair spent time with friends and at a grief retreat, and while they say it was good to immerse themselves in the world again, they’re at peace with being home and coming to terms with their new reality now.

And, as raw as it is, they are trying to honour their party-loving Poppy by living life as fully as possible.

“The worst is when we’re both flat. It’s easier to cope when one of us lifts the other up,” says Tresne. “We’re doing heaps of exercise to get the endorphins flowing and it’s important to sit with the sadness when it comes too. The more you push it down, the worse it gets.”

“It’s easier to cope when one of us lifts the other up.”

(Image: Phillip Castleton)

LASTING LEGACY

Poppy’s bedroom is still as she left it, full of her toys and books, and Carly says they have a memorial space set up with photos of Poppy and items like her little glasses.

“We’ve had her ashes made into necklaces and her ECG is engraved on the back, so Poppy is always with us,” says Carly. “We still talk to her every day.”

Poppy’s legacy is also living on with the #RiseUpForPoppy campaign where Carly and Tresne have been encouraging people to donate blood, platelets or plasma to Poppy’s Lifeblood team.

To date, 3402 donations have been made in Poppy’s name, saving countless lives.

“The support from strangers has been heartwarming,” Carly smiles. “There are so many good people in the world, it’s been a good lesson.”

Poppy’s life is making a difference, encouraging others to save lives by giving blood.

(Image: Supplied)

She says they’ve also learned from Poppy how happiness can be found in the darkest of cracks and memories of her keep them going, especially one involving Poppy and her Christmas penguins.

“It was Christmas every day from November to February in her room,” says Tresne. “She had these penguins that sang and danced to the Winter Wonderland song. She ended up with five, and she wanted them all singing and dancing at the same time. She just loved it.”

“One foot in front of the other” is the code the couple say they’re living by as well as the working title of a book they’re writing about grief. “It’s also a Hey Duggee song we used to sing for Poppy to get her strengthening her legs,” says Tresne. “We’d love to publish it and help people going through what we are.”

“We’re also continuing to work with the Children’s Cancer Institute to find ways to help other kids,” she adds. “We know we have to live our lives like Poppy would want. One of her followers messaged us the other day. She reminded us that even though she was only here for 20 months Poppy had a bigger impact than most kids. It makes us feel so proud.”

Carly and Tresne are asking people to donate blood, plasma or platelets if they can in Poppy Grace’s memory.

Go to lifeblood.com.au/blood to make an appointment.

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