Looking good

Finally, I can see my childrens smiles...

Published by: Becky Dickinson & Amy Thompson
Published on: 3rd March 2011

Anurse gingerly placed my newborn daughter on my lap. I reached out, felt Emma’s fragile fingers curl around mine. ‘What does she look like?’ I whispered tearfully to my husband Mike.
‘Beautiful,’ he replied, sadly. ‘I wish you could see what she’s like.
‘Me, too,’ I sighed. But I’d been born with vision problems. I was six-months-old when doctors had found a benign tumour on my right eye and had to remove it.
I’d never get to see my little girl. But worse, this was the first and last time I’d ever hold her, too. She was dying, and this was our chance to say goodbye to her.
I’d given birth when I was seven months pregnant because I’d been suffering from pre-eclampsia. Emma had been born weighing just 2lb 2oz.
Mike took my hand and gently moved it over our daughter’s tiny head. ‘She’s got lots of hair,’ he said. I could hear the sad smile in his voice.
‘It feels like silk,’ I whispered. ‘If only I could see her…’
No mother should bury a child, but at least they get to see their baby once. They get to have a lasting memory to cherish forever. But not me.
All I had was the memory of her petal-soft skin and barely-there weight as I had a cuddle for the first and last time. All I could smell was the hospital.
It was Mike who brought the moment to life as he described our daughter properly to me.
Later, when she took her last breath, words failed him…
From the minute I’d met Mike at college, we’d become firm friends. I’d told him how, from the age of two, I’d had a prosthetic right eye, and that the sight in my left eye was so bad all I could see was a blur.
He’d always looked after me, telling me who was where, while we chatted in a group of friends. We’d fallen in love and, five years later, we’d married.
It hadn’t taken long for me to fall pregnant, either. We’d been so excited when we’d found out I was having a little girl…
Another five years passed before I fell pregnant again. But history repeated itself.
Our son Christopher was born at seven months and weighed even less than Emma – 1lb 1oz.
He had to be kept in an incubator and, six agonising weeks later, he died. How much more would life take away from me?
When I fell pregnant with another little girl a year later, we were on tenterhooks. But at seven months, everything was fine…and at eight…
I held my breath when Millie was born.
‘Is she okay?’ I asked, while the midwife cleaned her up.
‘Perfect,’ she replied, gently placing my daughter in my arms. Crying tears of relief, I stroked her soft hair, running my fingers lightly over her delicate features.
‘I wish I could see her properly,’ I said, trying desperately to focus on her blurry image.
‘Me, too,’ sighed Mike, 48, wistfully. ‘She’s amazing.’
Over the next two years, I had to adapt to being a mum – my disability had never stopped me doing anything before, though, and wouldn’t start now.
My nan had taught me to ride a bike, I’d ridden horses, even been in an athletics team.
But motherhood… it was certainly a learning curve.
I had to rely on Mike to make up Millie’s bottles and, when she started crawling, things got really interesting. You know how they say you can’t take your eyes off kids for a second? Well, it’s true – and 100 times more difficult when you’re partially-sighted!
One morning, I turned my back for a second… that was all it took for Millie to vanish. ‘Millie?’ I called, panic rising. ‘Millie!’
Stood in the middle of the room, I listened for the slightest sound. Got on to my hands and knees and crawled around.
It took me 15 minutes to find her in the corner of the living room sucking on a piece of fruit.
‘This one’s great at hide and seek,’ I told Mike later, bouncing her on my knee. ‘She doesn’t make a peep!’
We laughed – but it taught me to be extra vigilant.
Luckily,   when I had our son Keir two years later, he wasn’t as mischievous as his sister.
The years flew by and the kids grew into happy, healthy children. Millie loved art, and was always bringing home paintings she’d done at school.
If only I could have seen them.
‘Look at this certificate I got,’ she gushed, handing me a piece of paper one day.
‘Wow!’ I smiled. ‘Well done!’
She was quiet for a moment, then… ‘Mum, you’re holding it upside down,’ she sighed.
I felt awful. It was like Keir’s school plays. I hadn’t been able to appreciate those, either. He was a real sweetie, always showing me what he was wearing before he went on stage, and telling me his lines so I could listen out for him.
But, although the kids were understanding, I wished things were different.
‘I’d give anything to see their smiles,’ I said to Mike, sadly.
Only a week before, I discovered I had a cataract and was going to lose the small amount of sight I had.
‘Well,’ he murmured, reading the newspaper. ‘I’ve just seen this story about someone who had a corneal transplant. Doctors replaced his cornea with one from a donor and got his sight back.’
‘Do you think they could do that for me?’ I gasped.
‘Couldn’t hurt to ask,’ he replied.
I called my consultant and booked an appointment. He had good and bad news for me. ‘You could have the operation,’ he said, ‘but there are no guarantees it’ll work – and you could lose what little sight you do have.’
‘It’s going anyway,’ I replied. ‘I’ll risk it.’
‘Okay, I’ll put you on the waiting list for a donor,’ the consultant told me.
I couldn’t help getting excited.
Would I really get to see my kids after all?
Just a few weeks later, I got a call to say the hospital had found a suitable donor. Packing a bag and kissing Millie and Keir goodbye, I was driven by Mike to Leicester Royal Infirmary for my op.
After two-and-a-half hours in surgery, I came round. My eye was covered with a patch, but I could already sense light creeping in.
I had to stay in hospital for a night, and my eyesight gradually improved when I got home. Little by little, things became clearer.
‘That’s a pretty hairband,’ I said, smiling to Millie, 13, one morning.
Her mouth dropped open in
shock. ‘Erm…thanks,’ she beamed, quickly flashing me a row of pearly whites.
‘Can you really see her hairband?’ asked Keir, 11, stunned, but grinning.
I felt like my heart would burst with joy. Finally, I could see my children’s smiles!
‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘And I can see you’ve got your shirt untucked!’
Keir rolled his eyes as he stuffed it into his waistband, giggling.
It’s been over a year since my op and my sight is still improving although I’ll always need my guide dog. I’m so grateful for the gift I’ve been given. Although I was never able to see two of my children, I can finally watch my other two grow up. I never thought I’d see the day…
• For more information on organ donation, call 03001 232323, or go to
Penny Hefferan, 47, Shepshed, Leicestershire