Leona Doherty’s beautiful son, Hugh Joseph, turned one-year-old in December, 2015. A miracle baby for the woman born with two wombs, he is a happy, bubbly boy who is the light of his parents’ lives.
Leona and her husband Gary had been trying for a baby for more than 14 years before Hugh was born and she suffered four miscarriages while going through multiple IVF treatments.
But, despite finally becoming a mummy, last year hasn’t been easy for Leona.
“I’ve hardly left the house since Hugh was born,” she said.
“I have two conditions which affect my feet - plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia - and they make walking almost impossible.
“I need to have an operation on each foot which involves breaking toes and cutting the tendons in my calves. Each foot would need a separate operation, with a six month recovery period after each one.
“It’s something I’ve had to start thinking seriously about in order to regain some quality of life.
“I went up the town recently and there are shops and restaurants there that I didn’t even know existed!”
The inflammation in Leona’s feet got so bad that she had to hire a wheelchair from the British Red Cross to get about her house and she spent three weeks confined to bed.
During this period, Leona felt as low as she had for some time.
“The pain and spasms became unbearable. I felt completely useless. Gary had to take unpaid leave from work because I simply could not look after Hugh.
“It was heartbreaking not being able to look after him when we waited so long for him.
“Thankfully, he was able to be in bed cuddling with me as he was still a baby.
“It’s now that he’s about to start walking that I’m scared and seriously considering the operation.”
In fact, Leona went into Altnagelvin last October to go through the process on her left foot, at the direction of her podiatrist. Robert Paul.
“Mr Paul has been fantastic since I first went to see him over 10 years ago. I wasn’t walking at all until he started seeing me and I take all of his advice seriously. He’s a brilliant support.”
However, following a terrifying ordeal three years ago when her vital organs shut down, Leona needs approval from her liver specialist before it can go ahead.
“In September 2013, my body temperature dropped dramatically and I was soon in complete organ failure. My family were told I had 24 hours to live. I was flown to London and spent three weeks there before returning to Altnagelvin Hospital.
“I’ve recovered and had Hugh, but because my body went through such a trauma, I need my consultant’s approval for any future operations. It has since been given so, hopefully, it’s something I can have soon.”
In the meantime, she has been receiving custom made NHS insoles from Pegasus Orthoses in Lisburn. An experienced orthotic lab which works closely with Premiership football teams, Ulster Rugby and the GAA, Leona is forever thankful to Pat McGonigle.
“Pat is amazing, he’s on the end of the phone whenever I need him and he goes above and beyond what he needs to. I am trying everything I can to stay mobile.
“No-one understands what it’s like.
“I’m lucky to have such a supportive husband and family, and my own GP, Dr Anne McCloskey, has been great. She has been my GP through all of my health problems and helps me manage my conditions.”
Yet, despite severe pain and a limited social life, Leona is a very positive person. She also fosters a child which she finds very fulfilling.
“It can be challenging, and these last few years have been difficult health-wise for me, but fostering is something I will not stop doing.
“I fight for the child in my care constantly and, of course, he tests boundaries but I will not give up on him because we care about him.
“I would love to foster more children and my extended family are a huge support. They take part in this and Hugh’s care as much as we do, and help me out daily.”
Ultimately, Leona and Gary would like more children of their own.
“Hugh has been a huge blessing for us and after years of IVF to conceive him naturally was unbelievable. So, if it happens again, it happens - and we would be delighted.”
In the meantime, she hopes that she can get back on her feet and regain a decent quality of life.
“I haven’t been on a holiday since our honeymoon, so that would be amazing.
“Just to be able to live the life I want to be living - that would mean everything.”