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Meet my little miracle.

Byline: CATHERINE TURNELL

COVENTRY woman Donna Ceairns gave birth to her husband's child two years after he died. Her husband Colin was dying of a brain tumour when he had a sample of his sperm frozen. A year after his death his wife began fertilisation treatment. She tells CATHERINE TURNELL that he would have been "over the moon" with their little girl

AT three-weeks-old Billie-Marie is far too young to understand about who her father was, let alone that he died two years before she was born.

But her mother, Donna, has something special to show her daughter when she reaches the right age.

She says: "There is actually a video that he did for me before he died. In it, he says, 'when you have our little baby let them know their daddy loves them and that he will always be there for them'.

"He said 'always make sure they know who their daddy was'. I'll show her it, when it's time."

Sitting with little Billie-Marie, Donna, aged 27, said Colin, who died in March 2000, would have been "chuffed to bits" with his daughter.

Colin, who was just 32, became a familiar face in the Evening Telegraph, as he battled to create an album full of memories for his family to look back on after his tumour was diagnosed in July 1998.

In November 1999, he fulfilled a dream when he went to see England play Scotland at Wembley, following an appeal for tickets in this paper.

Donna says Colin, a warehouseman, would have loved the attention from the media over Billie-Marie.

But whereas she was happy to talk to the Evening Telegraph she turned down requests for TV interviews.

Donna. who lives in Stoke, began IVF treatment at Walsgrave Hospital on the first anniversary of Colin's death.

The couple had agreed that the one thing they both wanted more than anything was a baby together, and the damning diagnosis was not going to stop them.

Donna said: "The staff at Walsgrave, in the fertility clinic and in the cancer ward, all knew about my situation and were absolutely brilliant.

"It was very strange being in hospital when everyone had their husbands coming in, and I got a bit angry with thoughts of 'why isn't he here'.

"But I was in a room by myself, so I didn't see it all the time and I had visitors anyway, but sometimes my emotions did get the better of me."

Unlike other women who have had their dead partner's children, Donna, surprisingly, did not have to fight to have her husband's name on the birth certificate.

The city's registrar did away with a bureaucratic ruling which means babies born in circumstances like Billie-Marie's, where the father has died, are usually registered without a father's name.

The birth certificate reads Colin Ceairns, warehouseman, deceased.

Donna said: "I was delighted when we came out, because I'd known of things before where you couldn't put the father's name on the certificate if he was dead.

"With Dianne Blood (the woman who fought a four-year court battle to use her dead husband's sperm for fertilisation treatment) it was different, her husband hadn't given his consent to use his sperm.

"When I telephoned they said 'no problem' because we were married. They said 'just bring along the right documents'.

"I do think if they're going to let you have a baby and go the whole hog, you should be able to have the name on the birth certificate."

Donna's success story is a first for fertility unit PROFESSOR Richard Kennedy, director of Walsgrave's assisted fertility unit, cared for the Donna Ceairns through her pregnancy and the birth of baby Billie-Marie.

Donna and husband Colin turned to him for help when they realised time was running out for them to have a child naturally.

Colin had his sperm frozen and he signed legal documents so that Donna could continue to use his sperm for IVF treatment after his death.

Prof Kennedy said: "It is a very nice story and a happy ending. We are delighted for Donna that things have worked out in the way they have."

He said this was the first time the Walsgrave unit had been involved in helping a widow conceive a child with sperm from her late husband.

"We freeze sperm and eggs all the time but this type of situation is very rare. This is the first pregnancy we have had with a woman being treated with posthumous sperm, and that is in the 10 years I've been here."

He said men and women diagnosed with cancer, as Colin was, are offered the chance to salvage their fertility because therapies to combat the disease often affect egg and sperm production.

But a man must give his written consent if his sperm is to be used following his death.

Colin gave his consent allowing Donna to bear the child they had always longed for.

In a high-profile case a number of years ago, Diane Blood fought for the right to have her dead husband Stephen's child.

She did not have written consent and so in this country she could not legally use her dead husband's sperm to have a child.

Mrs Blood, of Worksop, Nottinghamshire, won her case under European law and eventually had a baby boy, Liam, after travelling to Belgium for treatment.

Prof Kennedy said: "Obviously when we see couples where the circumstances mean the father may not survive we want to do our best for them but we also must think about the welfare of the child.

"We must be sure there is support for the mother and baby because the child will be without a father.

"In Donna's case the desire for a child was not an emotional reaction to her husband's death, I think it was a well thought through plan.

"Colin knew he had a serious illness and he wanted his sperm stored. He and Donna had always wanted children."

Like other women seeking help in conceiving a baby, Donna would have gone through a process of IVF, invitro fertilisation and ICSI, intra cytoplasmic sperm injection.

The procedure involves the mum-to-be taking fertility drugs to make her ovaries produce more eggs than usual.

The woman goes into hospital and under a light anaesthetic and with the guidance ultrasound, needles are introduced into the ovaries and the eggs are literally sucked out. As many eggs as possible, typically nine or 10 are fertilised.

If the fertilisation is successful two embryos are implanted back into the woman's womb.

Occasionally three are implanted. Any other successfully fertilised and healthy embryos can be frozen for future implantation.

Implanting at least two at a time gives a better chance of a successful pregnancy as it is still early days as far as development is concerned.

The implanted egg has seen only a few days growth and, like naturally conceived pregnancies, there is no guarantee the embryo will go on and develop into a baby.

Walsgrave's unit does, however, have a good record for pregnancies and births with a success rate of 30 per cent.

This means there is a one in three chance of a woman having a baby per attempt.

The process is not without its costs though, both emotionally and financially.

IVF costs about pounds 1,300 a shot plus extra for the drugs and ICSI comes in at about pounds 2,000 per attempt.

Neither Coventry nor Warwickshire Health Authorities fund the freezing of sperm or eggs.

The hospital pays for that itself and certain criteria have to be met for health authorities to pay for the fertility treatment and implantation.

CAPTION(S):

EMOTIONAL TIMES: Donna Ceairns with her three-week-old daughter Billie-Marie and (above) the Evening Telegraph story announcing the birth of the couple's little girl; DREAM COME TRUE: Donna and Colin pictured during their visit to Wembley to see England play Scotland in 1999, following an appeal for tickets in the Evening Telegraph HAPPY STORY: Director of Walsgrave Hospital's assisted fertility unit, Professor Richard Kennedy
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 29, 2002
Words:1339
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