Me and my hubby set the date… for him to die
the man she loved asked her for something unthinkable. Could Louise Hughes, 25, from Wigan, keep her promise?
We lived life waiting for that call to come – and finally, it did…
As the buggy bumped over the woodland track, my 18-month-old son George giggled.
I glanced at my fiance Dave, 32, as he shot me, then George, such a loving look. God, I love him, I thought. It was February this year and Dave and I had taken George for a walk with my mum Kath, 48, in woods near our home.
Looking at Dave grinning away, you’d never have known he was terribly ill.
Shortly after birth, he’d been diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries – a congenital heart disease in which the two main blood vessels leaving the heart are reversed.
‘I’ll need a heart transplant one day,’ he’d told me when we met in 2012.
It didn’t stop us from falling in love, and welcoming baby George in September 2016.
In and out of hospital, Dave wasn’t fit to work. So he stayed home with George while I worked part-time at a nursery.
‘Daddy loves you,’ he’d tell George every night.
He told me that a lot, too. Because Dave knew his heart could give way at any minute. It was something I tried not to think about. I preferred to focus on the fact a phone call from the hospital could come at any moment, offering him a new heart.
That’s why he always had a bag packed.
And why we’d never been able to holiday abroad.
We lived life waiting for that call to come.
And that day, during our family stroll, it finally did...
Dave’s phone rang and he went quiet as he listened.
‘That was the hospital,’ he stammered, hanging up. ‘They’ve found me a heart!’ ‘Let’s go!’ I cried.
Leaving George with Mum, we rushed home to grab Dave’s hospital bag.
As we arrived at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, staff wasted no time in prepping Dave for his transplant. ‘We can finally go on holiday…’ he said. ‘And I can take George swimming.’
He’d never been able to before as he had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) fitted in his chest.
It was like a battery-powered
heart pump that would improve his quality of life until his transplant was possible.
I kissed Dave before he was taken to theatre.
‘Good luck,’ I whispered. I knew it would be a long operation. But when – 18 hours later – he was still in theatre, terror gripped me.
Finally, I heard that he was out of theatre but still unconscious.
The surgeon took me aside. ‘There have been some complications,’ he said.
The surgeon explained the donor heart had gone into shock after being implanted in Dave’s body.
He’d suffered a large bleed, had to be given medication to thicken his blood.
But the heart had reacted badly to it and lost all function. ‘Oh, my God,’ I gasped. Dave had to be fitted with a Berlin heart, a device outside the body that took over the heart’s function.
That machine pumping blood around his body was the only thing keeping Dave alive. Doctors had to build up his strength before he could have another transplant. He was unconscious but I sat with him day and night, desperate to hear his voice.
He finally woke up after two weeks.
Telling him what had happened was devastating. But Dave listened bravely. And though he was groggy, he had one thing on his mind.
‘I want to marry you,’ he croaked with a smile. ‘Let’s do it,’ I grinned.
As Dave couldn’t leave his hospital bed, we would have to hold the ceremony right there on the ward.
The nurses helped me arrange the registrar for 23 March, as well as flowers and the champagne reception.
George wore a little suit, with a flower on the jacket just like his daddy, while I wore a long white gown I’d bought at Debenhams in Manchester.
My dad walked me through the hospital corridor and into the room where Dave, George, my mum and other relatives were waiting for us.
Once we were pronounced man and wife, they even threw confetti over us!
Bliss. But it was short-lived. Dave’s health continued to
Bursting into tears, I ran out of the room. I was devastated, angry
deteriorate, as he contracted chest infections.
On 4 May, a doctor told us it was highly unlikely Dave would ever be healthy enough for another transplant.
Then they asked if he wanted to continue treatment. Dave grabbed my hand. ‘Lou, I can’t do this any more,’ he said tearfully.
I thought back to years earlier when Dave made me promise to end his treatment if his suffering became too much to bear.
‘This is me telling you that I’m suffering,’ he said.
Bursting into tears, I ran out of the room.
A doctor caught me when I nearly collapsed.
I wasn’t just devastated, I was angry. Angry with the cards we’d been dealt, angry with Dave for giving in and leaving me and George...
But the doctor got me a cup of tea and calmed me down.
Dave was right. He’d been through so much, and I’d promised to help him escape the endless pain.
I couldn’t be selfish.
‘Do you really want this?’ I asked Dave in tears later. ‘Yes,’ he replied. After we gave our consent to end Dave’s treatment, his doctors, surgeons and palliative-care team met to discuss the situation.
We set the date for 8 May.
Three days away. The hospital moved a double bed into Dave’s room, so I could stay with him.
On 7 May, we spent all day in our pyjamas, and watched The Lion King with George in the big bed.
Our families had also gathered to say their farewells.
At 7pm, he asked everyone to leave so we could watch the soaps together for the last time.
Before we went to sleep that night, Dave asked me to promise one more thing.
‘Every night, please tell George his daddy loves him,’ he whispered.
‘I promise,’ I sobbed, kissing him.
The next day, at 12.24pm, Dave’s life-support machine was switched off and he passed away in his sleep a few seconds later, still in my arms.
Though heartbroken, I felt a sense of relief. His suffering was finally over.
Two weeks later, we held Dave’s funeral.
Always thinking ahead, he had given me his exact wishes, and I made sure that his requests were carried out.
His favourite Elvis songs were played, his coffin was draped in a Marvel-themed sheet and each pallbearer wore a T-shirt with a different superhero on it.
George wore a little top with Iron Man on it, Dave’s favourite.
George is 2 now. And I still tell him every night how much his daddy loved him.
And when he hits 18, there’s a video waiting for him made by Dave while in hospital.
I miss my husband every hour of every day, and I hope to honour his memory by raising awareness of organ donation.
Each donor could save the life of an amazing man like Dave.
I’m also training to become a transplant co-ordinator, so I can help others who’ve been in our situation.
It’s the least I can do for the love of my life.
Little George is 2 now...
Dave loved our boy so much
A precious family photo
Now I’m speaking out...
My hospital wedding day