Britain's bravest parents: A son who died at 16 - then baby twins lost after NHS blunders. Couple tell how triplets born to a surrogate have brought joy back into their lives

Gurgling with delight, toddler Eddie Singleton pedals his tricycle across the living room floor as fast as his little legs will take him.

Abandoning their Lego, his brother, Robin, and sister, Evie, are instantly on their feet and scampering behind him, desperate for a turn, crashing over piles of books and DVDs, and shrieking with laughter.

It’s an extraordinary tableau: a set of beautiful 22-month-old triplets watched over by loving parents who are clearly not in the first flush of youth — Nikki is 49 and Ian is 50.

But, as enchanting as the scene is, behind it lies a story of almost unimaginable anguish.

A bundle of much-deserved joy: Nikki and Ian Singleton pictured with their triplets Evie, Robin(blond) and Edward

A bundle of much-deserved joy: Nikki and Ian Singleton pictured with their triplets Evie, Robin(blond) and Edward

Nikki and Ian are the couple who captured the nation’s heart this week when an inquest revealed how an appalling string of medical failings had led to the deaths of their much-wanted twins three years ago.

The hearing at Aberdare Coroner’s Court heard how medics at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, near Cardiff, failed to spot Mrs Singleton had suffered a ruptured uterus when, at 30 weeks pregnant, she arrived in severe pain.

The two hours she was forced to wait for a Caesarean section resulted in her baby son Reuben being stillborn and daughter Esme suffering such severe brain damage, her life support machine was turned off the next day.

Josh Singleton was just 16 when he died from a brain haemorrhage

Josh Singleton was just 16 when he died from a brain haemorrhage

But what made their story all the more harrowing was the fact — revealed at the inquest — that the appalling loss of the twins in 2009 came just four years after the death of their 16-year-old son, Josh, from a brain haemorrhage.

What was not revealed at the hearing, however, was the couple finally have joy in their lives in the form of their beloved triplets, Eddie, Robin and Evie.

Josh was the original owner of that tricycle, pedalled with gusto across the floor by his baby brother this week. After Josh died in 2005, the grief-stricken couple felt unable to face the future without a child, and underwent 13 gruelling attempts at IVF before conceiving Reuben and Esme.

When they lost the twins, they were plunged into despair before finally deciding to have one last try for the family they were so cruelly denied.

They were delighted when they became parents again in November 2010 after a surrogate agreed to carry the triplets for them. Yet despite their joy, the pain of their lost children remains.

‘We are a family at last,’ says Ian, as he deftly grabs a squirming Evie for a nappy change. ‘For the first time since Josh died, we catch ourselves not just smiling but laughing. We are happier than we ever dared imagine.

‘But would I turn the clock back and have Josh alive? Yes. Would I give my life for him? Yes. In a heartbeat.’

Nikki and Ian, who now live in Swindon, Wiltshire, met at university in Bristol, where Nikki was a languages student and Ian was studying engineering. They married in 1987, soon after graduating. Keen to start a family, they were delighted when Josh arrived two years later in February 1989.

He was particularly precious because he was born at 31 weeks, weighing just llb 13oz. He had stopped growing in the womb and had to be delivered by emergency Caesarean section.

Nikki was understandably anxious about having any more children.

‘It was sad because we had dreamt of having a large family,’ she says. ‘But we were just so grateful to have Josh.’

‘We spoilt him,’ admits Ian, a quality manager for Honda cars. ‘He was the apple of our eye. He was the most wonderful kid — quiet, thoughtful, kind. We’d do silly things. At Christmas we’d have a competition to see who could buy the cheapest, nastiest decorations for £1. It drove Nikki mad.’

Josh dreamed of joining the RAF and enrolled with the local Air Cadets squadron, travelling to Cyprus and Malta.

Triplets Evie, Robin (right) and Edward have filled the heartbroken couple's lives with joy after years of grief

Triplets Evie, Robin (right) and Edward have filled the heartbroken couple's lives with joy after years of grief

‘Although he was so precious, we were determined not to mollycoddle him,’ says Nikki, a reservations clerk for British Airways. ‘We encouraged him to go gliding, caving and go-karting. We were gradually preparing for him to fly the nest and leave his private school for university.’

But it wasn’t to be. On the evening of October 18, 2005, Josh walked down the stairs of their home in Sully, Glamorgan, and crashed to the floor at Nikki’s feet. He had suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage — a type of stroke caused when a weakened blood vessel in the brain ruptures.

Josh hadn’t shown any symptoms —and there was no reason to suspect he was in danger. Although there are around 9,000 cases in Britain every year, they are extremely rare in children.

Josh Singleton, seen here aged two, had dreamed of becoming a pilot

Josh Singleton, seen here aged two, had dreamed of becoming a pilot

He was rushed to Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales, where doctors fought to save him but Josh died six days later.

‘You cannot imagine the horror of watching your child die,’ says Ian. ‘It tore us apart,’ adds Nikki. ‘You’re so consumed by your own sadness, you don’t have time or energy for the other person. If I had a good day, Ian would be in the depths of despair.

‘The only way we could survive was to have a baby. We didn’t want to replace Josh — how could we? We wanted to be a family.’

Ian agrees. ‘We were outcasts. We didn’t fit in with childless couples because we’d been a family. We didn’t fit in with families because we had no child. Christmas was unbearable. Holidays were impossible.

‘The hardest part was when people asked how many children I had. I would take a huge gulp and say: “One, but we lost him,” then watch the pity on their faces.’

When the couple failed to conceive naturally, they decided to try IVF. By then, Nikki was 42 and time was running out. As the years rolled by, one exhausting round of IVF followed another, each ending in failure.

‘Each time, when I didn’t get pregnant, the emotional crash was horrible,’ she says. ‘It was like a gambling addiction. We cashed in our savings and took out loans. While there was still the tiniest flicker of hope, I was not going to give up, whatever the cost.’

Finally, in January 2009, on their 13th attempt, Nikki, then 46, fell pregnant with twins. ‘I did the pregnancy test four times. Neither of us could believe it,’ she says.

That summer, Ian began the hardest job of all — dismantling Josh’s bedroom. ‘It was exactly as he left it the day he died,’ says Ian. ‘Nikki couldn’t bear to enter the room but I found it comforting to sit there and feel close to him. Packing everything away, stripping out all the school books, posters and old toys broke my heart. But we had babies coming in October and they needed a nursery.’

Ian was halfway through the project when, on the evening of July 18, 2009, Nikki — then 30 weeks pregnant —started complaining of severe stomach cramps. Ian rushed her to hospital — the same one where Josh had died — where doctors decided she was in premature labour.

No special care baby beds were available so, after waiting for hours, Nikki was transferred to the neighbouring Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant near Cardiff.

But staff had failed to realise Nikki’s womb was rupturing, endangering both her and her babies’ lives.

In fact, it is now thought Reuben died in the ambulance during the transfer, and Nikki believes this was overlooked because medics may have mistaken her heartbeat for one of the baby’s.

Then came a scan. ‘I looked at the screen and I could see that one baby’s heart was not beating,’ says Ian. ‘I knew then that one twin was dead. It was horrendous.’

Moments later, Nikki started bleeding heavily. But it was already too late to save their daughter’s life. Esme had suffered oxygen starvation during the traumatic hours that led to her birth by Caesarean and died the following day.

‘Electing to have our daughter’s life support machine switched off was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,’ says Ian. In that second, all our hopes and dreams were snuffed out. We lost two longed-for babies who should have been born safe and well.

‘They each weighed over 2lb — more than Josh had when he was born at a similar stage over 20 years ago. They should have survived. I cannot describe the fury I feel at the hospital and medical staff.’

Struggling to comprehend the enormity of her loss, Nikki found it almost impossible to believe the two babies in her arms were dead.

‘The nurses brought me the babies to cuddle. They thought it would help me grieve,’ she explains. ‘I would talk to them and pretend they were alive. I couldn’t accept what had happened.’

Back home, everything reminded the couple of all they had lost. ‘I couldn’t even walk into Josh’s room,’ says Ian. ‘It had been meant for the twins. Now they were dead too. Our house wasn’t a home any more — it was just an empty shell.’

The same RAF padre who had conducted Josh’s funeral five years earlier took the service for the twins. Ian’s voice drops to a whisper as he admits: ‘When I lowered these tiny little boxes into the ground, I didn’t know how I was going to continue living. I just didn’t see the point. Losing Josh was terrible, but this was worse in a way because it was needless.’

The couple are currently in the latter stages of a clinical negligence suit against Cwm Taff Local Health Board — which has accepted failing in its standard of care — with the help of Manchester-based legal firm Pannone LLP.

For Nikki, the need to have another baby was even stronger, although it was medically impossible because of the womb rupture.

So she started looking into surrogacy. ‘We’d explored the possibility of adoption when we lost Josh, and we weren’t sure if our age might act against us. We couldn’t bear any more heartache — surrogacy for us represented the best chance of a good outcome.’

After contacting the surrogacy charity COTS in December 2009, they were put in touch with Nicola, a young mother from North Wales.

‘We were so nervous,’ says Ian. ‘We met Nicola and her husband and liked them enormously. They are fun and terrific parents. It was the first time Nicola, who is in her 30s and has four children of her own, had considered surrogacy and she had many couples to choose from.’

The law surrounding surrogacy in the UK restricts payment to ‘reasonable expenses’ only. ‘Nicola picked us because of what we had been through,’ says Nikki.

Amazingly, Nicola fell pregnant on their second IVF attempt.

It was at her seven-week scan in June 2010 when they discovered she was carrying triplets. ‘Seeing three little heartbeats on the screen was overwhelming,’ says Ian. ‘We had lost three children. Now here were three little miracles to fill the gap.’

The couple have decided to keep the biological details of the conception to themselves as they work out what to tell the children in the future. ‘They will always know Nicola is their surrogate Mum. At the moment she is like a special auntie to them, and they see her regularly,’ says Nikki.

After long discussions, Nicola chose to carry all three babies rather than having a selective reduction. The pregnancy went smoothly and on November 16, 2010, the babies were delivered at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside.

Evie arrived first weighing 4lb, Robin weighed 4½lb and Eddie was nearly 5lbs.

‘Even when the nurses put them in my arms, I didn’t dare believe they really were mine to keep,’ says Nikki. ‘There are days when I still can’t believe we are a family at last.

‘I’m determined not to be over-protective but it’s hard to relax. Tragedy has struck three times so we know the worst really can happen.

‘I’m blissfully happy but permanently exhausted. I never have a second to myself. But I have always adored being a mother and, although I might not have the same energy I had as a young mum, I’m much more patient. So is Ian.

‘Having three babies at once — a complete family — is totally different from having one, so I don’t compare. The pain is still there. But now it’s just below the surface. I will never stop missing Josh or grieving for the twins.

‘I tell Evie every day that she is the most beautiful girl in England. But, if I told her that she is the most beautiful girl in the world it would be disloyal to my other little baby, Esme, who is buried in Wales.’

Ian agrees. ‘The babies have made us want to live again. For years we never even smiled. Now we never seem to stop laughing.

‘After Josh died, then Esme and Reuben, I couldn’t bear the thought that when we died they would be forgotten. Now they will live on because we will tell the babies all about them.

‘Our triplets can never replace the children we lost. And nothing will ever right the wrong that was done. But, to wake up and hear the chatter of three little voices every morning is indescribably sweet. I dare to hope that this time all really will be well for us.’

 

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