The greatest Mother’s Day gift of all for the parents of Lyall Cookward is that he is still here.
Almost a year to the day since life-changing surgery that helped him breathe unaided, the boisterous five-year-old’s family is preparing to mark a date more poignant than most.
Lyall, who has Down’s syndrome, has been raised by his two mums in the face of a string of health problems.
The Leeds youngster, who has undergone 23 operations in his short life, has overcome heart failure, battled with a rare lung condition and spent two-and-a-half years relying on a ventilator to help him breathe.
He eventually came off the machine but relied on a tracheostomy – an opening in his windpipe – to breathe until doctors at Leeds General Infirmary offered to rebuild his collapsed airway using a graft of cartilage from his rib.
Steph Ward and Sharron Cook, Lyall’s mums, went ahead with the op on March 13 last year in the hope it would give him a better quality of life.
After a week in hospital he woke up and uttered his first word, “mummy”, to the pair, and now, nearly a year on, has gone from strength to strength.
“When we were in hospital with Lyall only his health mattered, he had two parents that were absolutely committed to him,” Ms Ward, 47, said. “Mother’s Day will be nice this year because he’s so well.”
March 15 has been a milestone each year for Lyall. His first was spent in hospital, where his two brothers were allowed to see him for the first time in nine weeks, and three years ago he was discharged on Mother’s Day.
Despite his progress, the troubled start to life that Lyall endured is something his family is only just starting to process having spent years tending to a tot who was never far from the brink.
Lyall suffered heart failure soon after birth and needed a life-saving operation in 2010.
Later he was diagnosed with a rare lung condition and spent seven months in intensive care before his parents were told he would need a ventilator to help him breathe, possibly for life.
His progress helped him come off the machine after two-and-a-half years but his fragile condition meant his parents had to be by his side at all times in case he had difficulty breathing – they had to resuscitate him many times. Ms Cook, 47, said: “It’s only now in the last few months that we’ve been able to reflect on it. Because we were dealing with it day in and day out it became the norm but there was such a fine line between life and death.”
Now walking around the family’s kitchen and living room, which used to be his makeshift bedroom, Lyall is settled in at primary school and playing as you would expect any other child to.
The family has its sights firmly set forward but Lyall’s health still remains an issue.
On Friday, the first anniversary of him waking from last year’s op, he will be back in hospital for his 24th procedure which will address an opening in his abdomen.
“He’s shown us how fragile life really is,” Ms Cook added.
“You just try and live a day at a time.”