Daddy's timebomb

When Lee tragically died, he left behind a fatal gift

Published by: Jenny Bray & Amy Thompson
Published on: 19th May 2011

The house was quiet, too quiet, as I pushed open my front door after a busy day at work. Either I’d gone deaf or my fiance Lee, 30, had taken out our kids Lynden, seven, and Tegan, one. ‘Hello?’ I called, dropping my bag by the door.
Sticking my head around the door of the lounge, I spotted Lee sleeping face down on the floor under a blanket. ‘Typical,’ I smiled, kneeling beside him. ‘I leave you with the kids and…’
Giving him a nudge, though, he didn’t stir. ‘Lee?’ I frowned.
The kids must’ve run him ragged! Talking of which, where were they?
‘Come on sleeping beauty,’ I said, turning Lee to face me. ‘Wakey, wakey!’
I reeled back in horror. His face was pale and covered in sick. He wasn’t sleeping, he was unconscious. Heart racing, I ran next door to my neighbour Stephen. ‘What’s wrong?’ he gasped.
‘It’s Lee,’ I sobbed. ‘Something’s happened and I can’t find the kids!’
‘Lynden’s at his friend’s house down the road,’ Stephen explained.
‘I saw him earlier. He said his daddy was sleeping, so he’d put a blanket over him.’
‘H-he’s not sleeping,’ I gulped.
While he called an ambulance, I went back to Lee and phoned his parents Maureen and John to see if they knew where Tegan was.
‘She’s with us,’ John soothed. ‘We decided to take her to the park for the day.’
At least I knew where the kids were – but I still had no idea what was wrong with Lee.
At hospital, still unconscious, he was hooked up to drips and monitors. ‘He’s had an epileptic fit,’ the doctor explained. ‘We’ll keep him in, but he’ll be home tomorrow.’
But, the next morning, Lee still wasn’t awake. A scan showed he’d had a brain haemorrhage and would never wake again. ‘Lee was suffering from cavernous malformation of the brain,’ the doctor explained. ‘It causes clusters of enlarged blood vessels in the brain, which can cause bleeding without warning.’
Just like that, my fiancé was gone. But there was worse news to come. ‘The condition’s hereditary,’ the doctor added. ‘But we can’t test for it. Scans don’t show the condition until there’s a bleed on the brain.’
I’d lost Lee, was there a chance I could lose Lynden or Tegan, too?
There was no way of telling, I’d have to leave it to fate. I had other things to worry about. ‘Tegan’s so young still, I’m worried she won’t remember her daddy,’ I sobbed to Lee’s best friend Kevin.
‘She will,’ he promised. ‘We’ll make sure of it.’
In the months after Lee’s death Kevin, 27, was my rock. And we slowly fell in love. Years passed and we married and had a little girl, Morgan. Together we stuck to our promise, making sure Tegan, six, knew everything about her daddy.
‘Did he like swimming?’ she asked one evening, as I showed her old photos.
‘Loved it,’ I smiled. ‘He’d throw you in the air and catch you as you splashed into the water.’
She laughed and something about her expression made me catch my breath. Although she looked like me, she reminded me so much of Lee. She’d inherited his artistic side, adored animals, even had an identical birthmark to his on her shoulder. All this time I’d worried about her not remembering him, but the truth was she didn’t need to. She was part of Lee.
Even when she came down with a bug she was like her dad, refusing to feel sorry for herself.
‘Time for bed,’ I smiled, collecting up the photos. ‘You’ll feel better soon.’
The next morning, though, when I tried getting her up she slumped against me. Her speech was slurred, too.
‘Kevin!’ I cried. ‘Help!’
I called NHS Direct, who told us to take her straight to A&E.
While Kevin stayed at home with Lynden and Morgan, Lee’s dad John drove me and Tegan to Burnley General Hospital.
There, doctors whisked her away as she lost consciousness. ‘I-I thought she had a cold, what’s wrong?’ I begged the doctor.
‘Tegan’s had an epileptic seizure,’ he started. ‘We’ll keep her in overnight…’
Blood pounded in my ears, my knees felt weak. My mind flashed back to five years ago. I’d heard those words before, and look what’d happened to Lee.
I also remembered what else the doctor had said about his condition being hereditary. Was it happening again? No, I couldn’t let it.
‘She hasn’t had a seizure,’ I said frantically. ‘Her dad died from a brain haemorrhage. Please give
her a scan.’
‘Everything points to epilepsy,’ the doctor soothed.
‘Give her a scan,’ I insisted, tearfully. He looked at me, at his notes, then back at me. ‘Okay,’ he sighed.
As I waited for the results by Tegan’s empty bedside, I prayed it would be good news.
Tegan was the spitting image of her dad in so many ways, but what if she was like him in every way? What if she’d inherited the condition that had killed him? It didn’t bear thinking of.
Yet I’d no choice but to think of it, again and again.
Don’t be like Daddy, Tegan. Don’t you dare be like Lee.
When the doctor returned with my little girl’s results, I was a nervous wreck. ‘I-I was wrong,’ he said gently. ‘Tegan has cavernous malformation of the brain.’
‘No,’ I cried ‘B-but you’ve caught it early enough, she’ll be okay?’
The doctor looked at me gravely. ‘Not quite,’ he said slowly. ‘The haemorrhage has already caused a stroke, leaving her paralysed down her right side, and she still has a bleed on the brain. We need to transfer her to a specialist hospital for treatment.’
At Manchester Children’s Hospital, Tegan was put into an induced coma so they could reduce the swelling on her brain and pump her full of medication.
For a week, I was by her bedside willing her to get better.
Please Lee, I prayed, tearfully. Don’t let this happen again. I know she’s like you in so many ways, but don’t make this one of them.
He must have heard – because she began to improve. And he continued to look down on her, because even though she had to learn how to walk and talk again, she exceeded doctors’ expectations. Within a month, she was almost back to her old self.
‘Daddy would have been so proud of you,’ I said.
But she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Fifteen months later, she suffered another haemorrhage.
‘The cluster of malformed blood vessels in her brain has doubled in size,’ the doctor said. ‘If we don’t operate, she’ll die.’
While Tegan spent 11 hours in theatre, I paced the hospital corridors anxiously. Then her surgeon came out and… he was smiling! ‘We got it all,’ he said.
It was a miracle.
Three years on, Tegan’s been given the all-clear.
And the medical world’s come on so far that now Lynden can have a test to see if he has the condition. He’s decided he’d rather not know for now, though.
I’m just glad that my kids are like Lee in all the best ways now.
Lindsay Stack, 35, Burnley, Lancashire