Preston North End player Paul Gallagher and wife Hayley went through the tragedy of losing their son Luca who was stillborn at 30 weeks of pregnancy while his surviving twin sister spent her early weeks fighting for life.
The couple talk to AASMA DAY about their heartache and why they are hosting a charity ball in memory of Luca and in celebration of Ava’s life
EVERY time Paul Gallagher scores a goal for Preston North End, during his jubilant celebrations, he points to the sky as a tribute to Luca, the baby son he never got the chance to know.
Paul, 32, explains: “It is like I’m saying: ‘That one’s for you son. I’m still thinking of you.’
“I then kiss my wedding ring and point to my wife and the rest of my children too.”
Paul and wife Hayley, who live on the outskirts of Wrea Green, near Preston, have children Madison, 11, Ava, four and Rocco, two.
However, the couple say they will never forget Ava’s twin brother Luca, and he will always be a part of their family.
Paul and Hayley met when they were both pupils at Our Lady and St John’s in Blackburn and Paul’s best friend was Hayley’s brother Gary.
They began going out when they were 15, and have now been together for 16 years and married for seven. The couple had their first daughter Madison when Paul was 20 and Hayley was 21. Paul and Hayley always knew they wanted more children, and Paul longed to have children close in age after his own childhood was hit by a tragedy.
Paul says: “When I was seven, my brother Daniel died of meningitis when he was nine months old.
“I can still remember it like it was yesterday. My mum was pushing Daniel in his pram and I was with her.
“Daniel just suddenly changed colour and went limp. It happened so quickly.
“I remember going to the hospital and they didn’t know what it was at first. Daniel went downhill and died.
“I found it very difficult. One moment, I had a new brother, and then suddenly he was gone and I was on my own again.
“When people spoke about Daniel’s death, it upset me and I didn’t want to talk about it.
“My sister was born three years later, so there was a 10-year gap between us.
“While I was growing up, my friends had lots of brothers and sisters and I was always with them.
“I always said I wanted four children before the age of 30.
“It did actually work out that way. But tragically, we lost Luca.”
Paul and Hayley got married at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire in 2009, when Madison was four.
Despite having a smooth pregnancy with Madison, the couple struggled to conceive again and went down the IVF route in October 2011.
Hayley, 33, recalls: “Paul was supposed to inject me but couldn’t bring himself to do it, and his hands kept shaking so I did the injections myself.
“We were very lucky as the IVF was plain sailing for us and worked first time. We know we were fortunate, as some people go through it many times and it still doesn’t work.
“We always knew there was a possibility of having twins as they put two embryos back in.
“When we went for the scan and saw two heartbeats, it was the best feeling in the world especially after waiting so long to get pregnant again.”
Paul and Hayley’s joy was given an extra boost when a private scan at 15 weeks revealed they were having one boy and one girl.
Paul remembers: “People would ask ‘Do you know what you’re having?’ and it was lovely to say: ‘Yes, we’re having twins and we’re having one of each.’”
Hayley and Paul’s happiness at their imminent double arrival turned to heartbreak at 30 weeks of pregnancy when they went for a scan.
Hayley says: “With twins, you have extra scans and it was fortunate Paul was with me for this particular scan.
“At the time, I was having scans every two weeks and Paul had training every second Monday, so I went to some scans on my own.
“However, on this Monday, Paul had a game with Leicester, who he was playing for at the time, which was on Sky, and he did not have to meet until 6pm so was able to come to the scan with me.
“It was just a normal day. We had planned to go for lunch after the scan and Paul was going to play in the Leicester match against West Ham that evening.
“Nothing could have prepared us for what happened.”
Paul recalls: “We walked into the hospital all happy and the next minute our world just came crashing down.
“The woman doing the scan pulled the screen towards herself and said: ‘I just need to get a second opinion’ and left the room.
“Her face completely changed and I knew there was something wrong.
“Our hearts just dropped.”
Paul and Hayley felt numb with disbelief when they were told one of their babies had no blood going through the tubes.
Paul remembers: “I took ages to sink in. We thought: ‘Everything was fine. How can this happen?’”
Hayley says: “With twins, you can still feel kicking and movement so we had no indication anything was wrong.
“The consultant told us as I was 30 weeks, we had two choices. We could either go home and let the other baby grow for a few weeks or have a caesarean section that day.
“The scan had shown the cord was around Ava’s neck and I didn’t want to go home with a dead baby inside me. As well as being heartbroken, I was worried for our surviving baby.”
Hayley was operated on that same day on April 23 2012 and the couple experienced bittersweet emotions.
Paul says: “I was praying it was all a mistake and they had got it wrong and Luca would be all right.
“They took Ava out first and we had the joy of hearing her cry, followed by the sadness of hearing silence when Luca was taken out.”
Ava was born 10 weeks premature, weighing 2lbs 10oz, and was whisked away to the neonatal unit.
The couple were given a room to spend time with Luca and he was brought through whenever they wanted to see him over the next few days.
Paul recalls: “He was beautiful and just looked like he was sleeping.”
Hayley says: “We went through a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment we were devastated about Luca and the next minute we were with Ava trying to be strong.
“Our emotions were all over the place. We were so upset about losing Luca, but didn’t want any negative energy when we went to see Ava.
“I just couldn’t believe how tiny Ava was. It was very scary as she was surrounded by all these tubes.
“Her skin was transparent and we weren’t allowed to touch her for a few days.
“Ava was fighting for her life. At this point, we didn’t know if she would survive.”
Paul says: “Ava was so tiny, she could fit into the palm of your hand. Her legs were like knitting needles.
“She was a real fighter and 12 hours after being born, she was breathing on her own.
“After that, it was a case of getting her weight and strength up.
“Doctors did tests on Ava’s brain and heart but everything was fine.”
Paul and Hayley had to go through the traumatic heartbreak of a burial for Luca and only family attended.
Paul says: “In my head, I kept thinking it wasn’t real. It was like a terrible nightmare.”
Hayley says: “It was the size of the coffin that got us. It was like a shoebox.”
The following day, Ava was allowed to go home just four weeks after her birth, even though doctors initially thought it would take 10 weeks.
The very first place Paul and Hayley took Ava to was to her twin brother’s grave, so she could see his resting place.
Hayley remembers: “Ava was still really small. She was only 4lbs 15oz when she came home.
“We were really worried and paranoid and were always checking her cot.”
Paul and Hayley were living in Fulwood when they were expecting Ava and Luca. They had already decorated the nursery in preparation and there were two cots in the room.
While Hayley was in hospital, Paul took the cots down and bought their new family home near Wrea Green.
Hayley says: “I didn’t want to go back to that house or take Ava there.
“But we did end up taking Ava there for a few weeks before moving, but she stayed in our room.
“I never went back into that room.
“I wanted a fresh start.”
As well as coping with the anguish of losing Luca, Hayley and Paul had to endure the heartache of telling others.
Hayley says: “It was difficult telling Madison as she was only young.
“She knew we were having twins and that she was getting a brother and sister.
“When Madison came to the hospital, she was all excited and it was hard to explain what had happened. We did not want to get upset or cry in front of Madison.
“We told her Luca was ill and had gone to heaven. Now Madison is older, she understands.”
Paul remembers telling his mother was one of the most difficult phone calls he has ever had to make.
He explains: “My mum took it quite bad because of what happened with my brother. I didn’t want to tell her when she was on her own, so I made sure her friend was with her.
“It is difficult for parents. They are hurting because their child is hurting.
“There were a lot of parallels with what happened with my brother. I was seven when my mum lost Daniel and Madison was seven when we lost Luca.
“I was 27 when we lost Luca – the same age as my mum when she lost Daniel.
“It was like history repeating itself.”
Paul who was playing for Leicester at the time confesses that for the first time in his life, he wasn’t focused on football the same.
He explains: “I was still grieving and football came second.
“You have other things going on in your life. It was a difficult time. The worst of my career.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but when you’re not sleeping and are constantly worried and still grieving, you can’t perform your best.
“We are human beings, not robots.
“People sometimes think of footballers as being in this fantasy bubble and having a perfect life.
“But we are the same as everyone else. Our kids get ill, we have ups and downs and unfortunately tragedies happen.”
Paul stayed at Leicester for another season, but the travelling got to him and he wanted to be at home with Hayley and his children.
He went back to Preston North End on loan and has been with the club ever since.
Paul and Hayley had not planned another baby, and after having to have IVF, they didn’t think it would happen.
So when Hayley discovered she was pregnant again nine months later, it came as a shock.
Hayley says: “My pregnancy with Rocco was my worst one because I was filled with sheer terror.
“There was no explanation for what happened with Luca and I was so scared of it happening again.
“As we lost Luca at Preston, I felt I could not go there as I just associated it with bad memories. The pain was still so raw.
“I decided to have Rocco at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, as I wanted a fresh start.
“I hated going for scans because it was during a scan we discovered we’d lost Luca. The hospital staff were wonderful and put me at ease. I had extra scans and heart monitoring with Rocco.”
As soon as Hayley discovered she was having a boy, she decided to name him Rocco as when Ava was in the neonatal unit, there were a set of twin boys and one was called Rocco and she loved the name. Rocco the twin was discharged from hospital on the same day as Ava.
Delighted with the three children they have, Paul and Hayley say Luca will always be part of their family too. They keep his memory alive by talking about him and visit his grave regularly.
Hayley says: “Ava will never know a life with her twin brother.
“Her birthday is bittersweet as although we want to celebrate it, we also go to Luca’s grave and release balloons there.
“We try not to be sad as we want to celebrate the fact Ava is here and don’t want her to think her birthday is an unhappy time.”
Paul adds: “We want our children to know they had another brother. When we ask Ava and Rocco: ‘Where’s Luca?’ they point to the sky.”
Hayley and Paul have organised a charity black tie ball in aid of the Baby Beat Appeal, in memory of Luca and as a celebration of Ava’s life.
Hayley explains: “We have always wanted to do something but we weren’t strong enough and the timing wasn’t right. Now it is coming up to five years, we are a lot stronger.
“We want to raise as much money as we can for The Baby Beat Appeal as they provide research into premature births and stillbirths as well as technology, monitoring and bereavement counselling.
“Our ultimate goal would be to prevent this happening to other people in the future.
“Losing a child is heartbreaking and is the worst thing. Nothing comes close.
“It has changed us as people and made us closer as a couple and as a family.”
l The Twin Ball will be held on Saturday, March 11 2017 at Ribby Hall in Wrea Green. It will be a black tie charity dinner with live entertainment, an auction and raffle. It is being sponsored by Campbell’s Caravans and Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, and more sponsorship opportunities are available.
If you can help with sponsorship or raffle prizes or want more information about the ball, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org