The sacrifice of strangers

Two grieving mums save by to little miracles...

Published by: Nicola Pittam and Jean Jollands
Published on: 25 August 2011

All it takes is one second for your life to change forever. Happy, sad… good, bad… life, death. All can change in a heartbeat.
Like when I’d been told I was pregnant, but had an enlarged heart. That had been pretty shocking, but the doctors had assured me I’d be fine.
Me and my hubby Richard, 37, had only been three days into our honeymoon in Aruba when we’d heard the news. I’d only gone to see a doctor because I’d had a bit of backache! In that moment, my life had changed forever.
But it was nothing compared to what I was being told now. As the nurse ran the wand over my tummy during my scan, I waited for her to tell me the sex of our baby.
‘It’s a boy!’ she beamed.
The second I got back to the ward, I called Richard. He hadn’t been able to get away from work for the scan, but was heading to the hospital now.
‘Honey, we’re having a son!’ I cried down the phone.
‘That’s amazing,’ he cheered. ‘See you in a bit to celebrate.’
But as I said goodbye, the doctor appeared at the end of my bed. ‘I’ve got some bad news…’ he began.
‘They got it wrong, I’m having a girl?’ I joked.
‘No,’ he said, looking serious. ‘I’m afraid you’re heart’s under too much pressure. If you were to continue with this pregnancy, it could kill you.’
‘Your best option is to abort this baby,’ the doctor added.
‘No,’ I breathed.
Seconds before, I’d broken the news to Richard that we were having a son. Now I’d be breaking the news we might have to end his life before it had begun?
‘This can’t be happening,’ I cried. ‘There must be something you can do? I can’t abort.’
I was five months pregnant. Maybe if I held on a little longer my baby would be strong enough to be delivered?
The doctor vowed he would do all he could. ‘But you come first,’ he warned.
As the days ticked by, I stroked my belly, begging my baby to hang on. Three weeks later though, doctors discovered I was suffering from primary pulmonary hypertension, a disease affecting my heart and lungs.
‘You’ve no choice, you have to abort this baby,’ the doctor said sadly.
‘No!’ I croaked, tears filling my eyes.
‘Stef, I can’t lose you, ’ said Richard, taking my hand. ‘Please…’
In a numb daze, I went through with the termination. Emptiness and guilt overwhelmed me. All I hoped was, one day, I’d be strong enough to have the baby I dreamed of.
Only, three years on, I was weaker than ever. Worried, I went back to the doctors and was admitted to hospital for tests.
‘You’re suffering from restrictive cardiomyopathy,’ the doctor explained. ‘That means the chambers in your heart aren’t filling up with blood properly.’
‘Can you fix it?’ asked Richard.
‘Stef needs a heart transplant,’ he said. ‘If not, her heart will eventually fail.’ Was I going to die?
‘If the transplant works though, you’ll live a normal life.’ he continued. ‘And you’ll be strong enough to have children.’
A transplant had its risks – my body might reject the donor heart, I might not wake up from the operation. Then again, if it was a success, I could have the baby I’d always wanted. ‘Okay,’ I nodded.
For two months I was in hospital, waiting for a donor. Then it finally happened!
‘Thank God,’ I cried, bursting into tears. But then it hit me – someone had died for me to live.
‘Can you tell me anything about the donor?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘Your heart’s from a 14-year-old boy,’ the doctor explained. ‘He was killed in a road accident, cycling home for his tea.’
Somewhere out there his poor parents were grieving for their son, just like I’d ached for my boy. 
Their generosity amazed me. I’m going to live – not just for my lost son – but yours, I vowed silently. 
The operation was a success and, finally, I had the chance to live a normal life – to become a mum.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mother who’d bravely donated her son’s organs. ‘I’d like to thank her,’ I told my doctor.
He gave me Gail and Andy Clegg’s address and I wrote, telling them how grateful I was.
Then I got a letter back. We only live an hour away, come and visit us any time, I read. We’d love to tell you about our boy, Sean.
As soon as we arrived at their house, I fell into Gail’s arms. ‘Thank you,’ I sobbed.
‘Sean would have been so proud that he could give you the chance to live,’ she wept. 
Looking around the room at this wonderful woman, Andy and other son Brian, I felt so at home. ‘I feel like I’m gaining a new family,’ I smiled.
‘I know just what you mean,’ agreed Andy, tearfully clutching his wife’s hand.
As the months passed, I grew stronger and stronger. Then I did a test of my own – and the results were shocking…
I was pregnant. With twins!
Me and Richard just couldn’t believe our luck. And the look on the faces of Gail and Andy when we told them!
‘We’re making you honorary grandparents,’ Richard announced.
‘None of this would be possible without you guys and Sean,’ I said, taking both of their hands in mine. ‘You haven’t just given me the gift of life, you’ve given it to my two babies, too.’
At eight months, my twins were born prematurely by emergency caesarian. Natalia arrived first, a tiny 2lb 13oz bundle, then her sister Melania at 4lb 2oz.
‘They’re just so beautiful,’ whispered Richard.
Now my girls are one, it’s hard to believe I never thought I’d be a mum. But I also never forget that, for that to happen, someone else had to lose their son.
Life really can change in a heartbeat. Happy, sad… good, bad… life, death.
Stefania De Mayo, 30, New Jersery, USA