A married couple whose lives were completely transformed when the groom was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis on the eve of their wedding are celebrating after welcoming their first child to the world.
Simon Flowers, 31, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was 28 years old after he fell into a coma just a month before he married his partner Natalie, 25
Mr Flowers, a police officer, has undergone six major operations and must now take nutrition via Hickman lines in 12 hour sessions, five times a week.
Despite considerable challenges, the couple, of Hinckley in Leicestershire, now have a 20-month-old son named Charlie.
Mrs Flowers, a nurse, said: “We want to help people understand how dramatically an ulcerative colitis diagnosis can affect lives.
“It happens to people all over the world, and more and more people are getting diagnosed – at increasingly younger ages.”
Mr and Mrs Flowers were wed in the grounds of University Hospital Coventry because Mr Flowers was too weak to make it to the church in time for the ceremony in June 2012.
Mrs Flowers said: “Simon experienced excruciating, stabbing stomach pains shortly after we found out I was pregnant in April 2012.
“We were told that he needed urgent surgery because holes in his large intestine were getting bigger and despite everyone’s best efforts the damage couldn’t be controlled with steroids.
“We didn’t know whether he would survive the surgery – it was terrifying.”
Despite early improvement after the surgery in May 2012, during which Mr Flowers’ large intestine was removed, he deteriorated again to the point where could only take nutrients via a nasal tube.
Mrs Flowers said: “Simon was determined to walk down the aisle but by June, when our wedding was scheduled for, he was still to weak.
“He was so determined that I decided to bring the wedding to him – I didn’t care about having a fancy party with all the trimmings. The thought of nearly losing Simon made me want to go ahead with the wedding even more.”
Mrs Flowers arranged for a small number of guests to visit the hospital, where the pair were married.
She said: “Simon managed to walk down the aisle under his own steam before he had to return to his wheelchair.
“His suit was a bit big for him because he had lost nearly five stone in weight due to his illness.”
Despite frequent stays in hospital, Mr Flowers was supportive as his new bride prepared to give birth.
The delivery was beset with complications and Charlie had to be born via emergency cesarean section.
Mrs Flowers said: “I was so stressed by what was going on with Simon that I wasn’t eating properly, so the doctors were keeping a close eye on me.
“Then, Charlie suddenly stopped moving. I went for an emergency scan and it showed that the cord was wrapped around Charlie’s legs. He had worn himself out by wriggling around too much.
“It was decided that it was best to get him delivered as soon as possible.
“Simon was out of hospital to be by my side but unfortunately he was admitted back to hospital a week after Charlie’s birth for further surgery.
“He’s had a further three operations, not counting the two examinations under anaesthetic he’s had to undergo, or the four Hickman Lines he had to have inserted for total parental nutrition.
“He currently has a Hickman line in place and has to have TPN five nights a week. He is a fighter, and even after all our setbacks, my husband has carried on like a trooper.”
Mr Flowers still attends hospital regularly for treatment and examinations. Mrs Flowers paid tribute to the friends and family who have stood by them throughout their extraordinary journey together.
She said: “We can’t plan things too far in advance – we’ve had to cancel three holidays due to Simon being in hospital. We’re also putting our dream of having more children on hold for the time being.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. We always look on the bright side and remember there are people in the world worse off than us. We make the most of the time that Simon is well by going on day trips, picnics, bike rides, and enjoying Charlie while he is young.
“Our families have been our rocks and are always there with a helping hand, especially as I also work full-time.
“It can be stressful looking after a toddler, working full time and visiting my husband in hospital – thank goodness for modern technology and video calls, which makes keeping in touch with people much easier.
“We have lost a few friends along the way. I don’t think they understood or could handle the stress of what we were going through. We don’t blame them, especially at our ages – at diagnosis I was 23, and Simon was 28 – but it has made us realise who our true friends really are.”
Mr and Mrs Flowers have since been in touch with other families who have been affected by ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Mrs Flowers said: “We’ve had people emailing us asking us for advice, giving their good wishes and support. We’ve had a nervous mum message us, asking advice for her little boy who was one when he was diagnosed.
“It can be a scary prospect when people don’t know the ins and outs, or when they don’t know anyone who suffers the same condition.”
Mr Flowers said: “My memories from around the time of my diagnosis are quite hazy – thankfully Natalie is able to remind me of what happened.
“Charlie’s brilliant. He’s a really happy child, which is a welcome distraction from the other difficulties we’re facing. I love being a dad.”
For more information visit www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk
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