I saw my husband and baby both die
It was Valentine’s Day when my husband Colin had surgery to replace the mitral valve in his heart.
A week later, I found out I was pregnant with our second child and, with Colin hopefully on the mend, it looked like we had everything to look forward to.
But our happiness was marred when Colin, an accounts manager, started to feel unwell. You could hear the replacement valve loudly ticking in his chest. Then in May, 2008 – three months after surgery – Colin opened the curtains in our bedroom and fell back on the bed saying he couldn’t get any air in.
Within minutes, he was vomiting up blood and our threeyear-old son Cameron saw it all.
My husband died hours later. He had developed an infection around his heart and the valve had come away.
He was just 29. I was left a widowed mum, three months pregnant. The impending birth gave me something to hang on to and our daughter Gabrielle was born in October 2008.
She seemed healthy but four days later was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning only half her heart was working. Gabrielle needed a transplant but was born weighing six pounds and she just wasn’t strong enough. She was taken to Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital where surgeons tried to insert a balloon in her aortic valve to give her a better chance. But my beautiful girl, who looked perfect on the outside, was not getting any better and was losing more weight. Doctors said there was very little they could do. I couldn’t believe it. “Why me? Why is this happening again?” I cried. Gabrielle was taken to Derian House Children’s Hospice in Chorley, Lancs, to die. I dressed her in a little pink babygro for the journey. Gabrielle survived that night but passed away on December 18. She was less than nine weeks old. It’s hard to put into words the depths of my grief at losing both of them within seven months of each other. Getting out of bed each morning took every ounce of strength I could muster. The weeks and months that followed our double tragedy were dark. Only my love for Cameron and help from my family kept me going. There were times when I wanted to die.
Three years after he lost them, Cameron was diagnosed with a similar valve problem to his late father and might also need surgery one day.
It’s so tough but I’m determined to keep my boy fit and healthy to make sure he stays well. We’ve already lost so much.
He’s now 12, loves sport and runs about with his friends, although he has OCD and has thoughts about death after all he went through.
I’ve been blessed to find happiness again with an old school friend, Tom.
He understands the grief I’ve suffered – he lost his daughter when she was seven weeks old due to a brain stem problem.
We’re now married and have a four-year-old daughter called Ava.
There’s not a day goes by, though, when I don’t think of Colin and Gabrielle.
I’d urge every adult to take up the offer of the new heart checks being offered. Early detection is vital when it comes to treatment.
I hope the next step is having all newborns routinely scanned for any heart deficiencies too.
We need to save families from heartache wherever we can.
CLOSE Claire is determined to keep Cameron fit and well BEAUTIFUL Gabrielle died at two months LOVING DAD Holiday snap of heart victim Colin