Jennifer Faulds was looking forward to a fresh start after a difficult few years that saw her partner diagnosed with heart failure and the premature birth of their longed-for twins.
But last May, just when the Scots mum of two and her fiancé Alex Williams were due to move into their dream home with their young family, tragedy struck when Alex died suddenly.
Now Jennifer is facing a daunting future as a single mum but she has vowed to make the best possible life for daughter Ella and son Aaron, now aged four.
That includes making sure Ella, who was diagnosed with diplegic cerebral palsy at two years old and needs a walking frame, undergoes a revolutionary operation to help her walk unaided – the last thing she and Alex discussed before he died.
As she prepared to mark the one-year anniversary of his death, Jennifer told The Sunday Post how losing her rock suddenly at the beginning of the pandemic turned her life upside down.
Jennifer, who has moved in with her mother in Glasgow while she looks for a new place to live, said: “It was devastating. We’d had a terrible few years and everything was just starting to click into place. Things were finally starting to turn round.
“Then I was left with nothing but memories of the life we were meant to have together.”
Alex was diagnosed with heart failure in 2016 but the couple were determined to have their own family and underwent fertility treatment. They were thrilled when they conceived on their second round of IVF.
“When we found out it was twins, we were so happy,” said IT project manager Jennifer, 45. “We thought it was amazing because, given my age, we might not get the chance again. It seemed like a miracle. I remember thinking everything was starting to work out in our life. Little did I know it was the beginning of a completely different journey.”
After the twins were born 26 weeks premature, weighing just 2lb each, they spent three months fighting for their lives.
Jennifer said: “When Ella came out she wasn’t breathing. It was like time was standing still. I was just lying there, waiting and praying. About a minute later Aaron came out and they were whisked away in incubators and put on ventilators.
“They were such tiny things, all wired up. The beep of the machines just became my life. It was touch and go for the first six months.
“Both babies had collapsed lungs at different points. It was the scariest time of my life.”
But, after three attempts, both Ella and Aaron were taken off their ventilators and, at six months old, were finally able to go home for the first time.
For the next few years the couple threw themselves into being parents while Alex’s heart condition was being monitored.
They bought their dream home together in London but on May 19 last year, just a few days before they were due to move in, Alex collapsed.
“I’m still numb,” said Jennifer. “It was such a shock. I just didn’t see it coming so suddenly. I don’t think I have even started to grieve yet, life is too busy with the twins – but I think it’s easier when you have a focus.”
Before his death, Jennifer and Alex had agreed that Ella would undergo selective dorsal rhizotomy, an operation that improves mobility in cerebral palsy sufferers. It involves cutting nerves in the lower spine that are responsible for muscle rigidity. It is hoped Ella can have the surgery on the NHS, but Jennifer has to raise £35,000 to cover the specialised private physiotherapy she will need after surgery, up to five times a week for at least two years.
She said: “It was one of the last things I spoke with Alex about. He thought it was a great idea. After he died, I made a decision this was something I wanted for Ella. It would change her life.
“I see it as my job now to help Ella live her best life. She’s a typical four-year-old who likes Paw Patrol and PJ Masks and loves putting on shows for us.
“She also loves horse riding with Riding for the Disabled. Her brother Aaron is very gentle with her, bringing her things she can’t easily get for herself.
“But it is frustrating for her not being able to do everything he is able to do and, while she will never be able to do everything he does, the operation and following physio may allow her to walk independently and enable her to do so much more.
“Seeing her walk through the gates on her first day at school next year would be amazing – and would have made her dad so proud.”
Jennifer hopes Ella could be a candidate for the life-changing surgery this year.
She said: “Ella has worked so hard – and she never complains. She’s had splints, and botox injections, physio – and she just takes it all in her stride.
“She definitely has her dad’s attributes. It is bittersweet we’re getting close to the surgery without Alex being here – but that makes us even more determined to see it through.”
The family is supported by national children’s charity Tree of Hope, which raises funds for children like Ella with healthcare needs.
To donate to Ella’s fund, visit www.treeofhope.org.uk/ellas-dream-to-walk/
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