Yorkshire family's tribute after loss of baby Zachary

Max and Emimly Bridges with Dexter, now aged seven months.
Max and Emimly Bridges with Dexter, now aged seven months.

Over the space of a few hours, the Bridges' world was to change irrevocably. From suddenly becoming parents, to losing one of their newborn twins.

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The jubilation of expectant parents, turning to terror as Emily, at just 27-weeks pregnant, gave birth on the bathroom floor.

Dexter is now seven months, and thriving

Dexter is now seven months, and thriving

Engineer Max, stunned after delivering both sons, performing CPR on one when he stopped breathing.

There was a red-light trip to hospital, then another. Relief as the boys, Zachary and Dexter, were taken into special care, on ventilation, and eventually declared stable.

Then, finally closing their eyes to rest, there came a phone call to change everything. Baby Zachary had suffered a brain haemorrhage. He died at three days old.

Nothing can undo the loss of that day, the couple say as they hold Dexter, now seven months old. But they can ease the pain of the journey for others, as was done for them.

Zachary's 'beads of courage'

Zachary's 'beads of courage'

'I wouldn't wish this on anyone'

Through that time, and through the many weeks that followed, they were supported by the Sick Children's Trust. Other parents, somewhere along the line, had funded that care.

Now, they are to pass it on, so that other families can receive the same support.

"It was the most traumatic and life-changing experience we've ever been through," said Mr Bridges, 35. "Our world completely changed, multiple times, especially in that first week.

Max and Emily Bridges are now mid-way through a year of challenges to support The Sick Children's Trust and Leeds Care

Max and Emily Bridges are now mid-way through a year of challenges to support The Sick Children's Trust and Leeds Care

"To find out I was a parent, when I thought I had three months to prepare, and then to lose a child, was the hardest thing.

"I wouldn't wish this on anyone. It was devastating."

Unexpected delivery

The couple, when their first scan showed two heartbeats rather than one, had been delighted to find they were expecting twins.

The pregnancy had progressed well, with the babies due in February. But on Mrs Bridges' birthday, Friday, November 16, she began to feel lower back pain.

They had sought advice, and been reassured it was probably pelvic girdle pain, often worsened with twins. But on the Sunday night the pain intensified.

"Max helped me upstairs, I was in that much agony I couldn't walk," said Mrs Bridges, 27. "My waters broke straight away. I was screaming at Max, shouting for him to ring somebody."

Mr Bridges, on the phone to paramedics, delivered Dexter himself, laying him on a towel on the bathroom floor. He was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand.

"I was screaming down the phone at this point, we needed to get him an ambulance," he said. "When Zachary arrived, he wasn't breathing. I had to perform CPR on him, to get him to breath.

"I held it together reasonably well, until the paramedics got here. Then I broke down.

"They told me to get a bag together to take to the hospital - I put in a first aid kit and a torch. I was just in shock - I couldn't think."

Hospital care

The twins were taken to Leeds Children's Hospital, Mrs Bridges discharging herself from medical care so she could be with her sons.

Dexter weighed just 2lb4oz, and Zachary 2lb5oz. They were placed in special care, ventilated to help them breath, and eventually were declared stable.

"The hospital pulled in staff that weren't working, to help us," said Mr Bridges. "It was a tremendous effort, they were turning up in the middle of the night from all over."

The initial relief at having both boys in a stable condition had turned to fear when Zachary suffered a brain haemorrhageon his second night in hospital.

The couple, warned of what was coming, were able to spend time with him before he died, and were moved to a bright room with wide windows.

"We wanted him to see a bit of the outside world before he passed away," said Mrs Bridges. "He had never seen daylight, I wanted him to see the sky. He passed away peacefully in both of our arms."

Beads of Courage

Today, at their home in Cowling, near Skipton, the couple show the boys' 'beads of courage'. Each brightly coloured bead represents a milestone, or a treatment they endured.

Red is for a blood transfusion, bumpy is for a bad day. A sunshine bead is for phototherapy, and milky white is for the first time on breast milk.

Zachary, in his three days, collected 31 beads. Dexter has 75.

Following Zachary's death, Dexter was in hospital for eight weeks, later transferred to Airedale Hospital as his condition improved.

Eckersley House, through the Sick Children's Trust, had become the couple's 'home from home' close to the hospital.

There was a room to stay, and a direct line to Dexter's ward if they woke afraid in the night. And other families, going through the same thing, who understood what it was like.

"They were doing what we were doing," said Mr Bridges. "They were going in to see their children every day, that gave us the strength and the courage that we needed to do the same."

Giving back

Today, at seven months, Dexter is home. A healthy weight and gaining, he is curious, and doesn't like to sit still.

Pictures of his brother adorn the mantelpiece, alongside twin Father's Day cards, one from each son. Zachary's time will never be forgotten, say his parents, and they are determined to give something back.

"I used to donate blood, and platelets, but I stopped when Emily was pregnant," said Mr Bridges.

"When we were in hospital it brought it home - somebody out there has gone out of their way to do this for us.

"Somebody else raised the money in the first place, to fund Eckersely House so we had somewhere to stay. We decided to do a year of challenges."

The challenges they have set themselves are physical, but also mental, to demonstrate the journey they've been through.

There's the Great North Run coming up, and a skydive, while this weekend saw them completing an obstacle course and a walk respectively.

For Mrs Bridges, there was a 49 mile run, representing the distance from Airedale Hospital to Leeds Children's Hospital and back, while Mr Bridges is doing three separate three peaks, carrying a pram to signify their loss.

Mental challenge

"We had a lot of mental challenges to overcome when they were in hospital," said Mr Bridges.

"It's really hard. When we feel down, we always say we're 'close to the hole', and it's the job of the other person to pull us back. It's easy to slip into a hole of despair.

"Probably the only thing that kept us going was that we had Dexter. Focusing on him, and seeing him go from strength to strength, has given us the strength itself to carry on.

"We are so grateful," he adds."And if you feel that way, you should do something."

Eckersley House is one of ten ‘Homes from Home’ run by The Sick Children’s Trust, supporting 4,000 families every year.

It costs the charity £30 to support a family for one night, ensuring they are minutes from their child's side when they are needed most.

To support the family's campaign, raising money for The Sick Children's Trust and Leeds Cares, visit justgiving.com/fundraising/bridgestwins-tsct or justgiving.com/fundraising/bridgestwins-leeds