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Couple who lost both children to rare conditions 'find purpose' again by fostering

Karen and Paul Ledsham faced every parents' worst nightmare when their one-year-old daughter died, followed a few years later by their son, 12. But they coped with their grief by fulfilling their son's wish for them to foster

By Nilufer Atik & Olivia Baron

09:48, 16 MAY 2021

A couple who lost both of their children to rare conditions have found purpose in their lives again after becoming foster parents.  Karen and Paul Ledsham were devastated after losing their daughter Abigail to a rare disease that attacks the nervous system, then their son Harrison to cancer five years later.  They thought they’d never recover from the unbearable grief of losing both of them but then remembered a wish Harrison,12, had after his sister, one, fell ill, Lancashire Live reports.  “He mentioned that when she goes to heaven could we let somebody come and live with us because, obviously, he’s got nice toys he wants to share because he won’t be able to share with his sister anymore, and that kind of conversation was there,” said Karen, 48, a nurse.  At the time we said well, it’s something to think about after she died.”

But the couple went on to follow Harrison’s advice and are currently fostering two siblings under the age of ten, reports LancsLive.  The Ledshams, from St Helens, Merseyside, say it “brings purpose” to their lives.  “We feel, or felt, ‘well what is the point?’” Karen said.

“Lots of people don’t have children, but we’ve had them and lost them and with that we’ve lost our hopes and our dreams and our futures.  So having this now, it keeps us going, keeps us busy and our minds occupied.  It makes the house a home again.”

It was in 2008 that the couple’s daughter Abigail died just five days before her second birthday, after becoming unwell with Sandhoff disease, a disorder that attacks the nervous system.  It was then that Harrison first asked his parents if they’d consider fostering.  Harrison himself became ill with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, about five years later, and suggested the idea again.  “He did bring it up again, saying ‘it would be lovely to have children in the house’,” Karen recalled. “I think sometimes he was lonely.”

Harrison’s illness was diagnosed when he suffered a pain in his leg, which turned out to be a fracture caused by a tumour.  It was the worst news imaginable for Karen and Paul.  “After Abigail died, we did wrap him in cotton wool,” she said.

“Any time he got an ache or pain, or was ill, you have that little niggling feeling at the back of your mind what if it’s something?  You try and carry on, and you do, but that day when we found out, it was (something), the world crashed down.”

The desire for the family to foster children was very much in character for Harrison, according to his parents.  “He always wanted to help people,” Karen said. “He always wanted to be a doctor, he said he wanted to find a cure for the condition his sister had.”

Paul, 52, a delivery driver, added: “I know everybody says this about their children, but he was the nicest boy you would ever meet.”

The cancer in his bones meant Harrison ultimately had to have his leg amputated above the knee.  But he went into the surgery with medical staff not knowing whether the amputation would be necessary.  After coming round from the surgery he thanked the theatre staff.  "He woke up and said, ‘have you took my leg?’ and he (the surgeon) said yes. And he said, ‘well I know you did your best, thanks very much’,” said Paul.

Sadly, despite the surgery, the cancer spread, and Harrison died six years ago aged 12. Then any thought of fostering was put to back of his parents’ minds.  But 18 months later, their interest was reignited when they walked past a stall while out shopping, offering information about fostering.  Following discussions, the couple decided to apply and about a year later they were approved.  Because of their circumstances, some friends and family expressed concerns about how they might cope with fostering particularly when the children moved on.  “That’s something that we had to consider,” Karen said.

“But, we talk about this all the time, nothing is the same as our children going where they’ve gone.  So we knew if we can deal with that, we knew we could deal with other children moving on and leaving our lives, as long as we’ve made a difference and given some happiness and some stability.”

Paul said fostering was “challenging” but had brought “laughter” back into their lives as well as rewards that were worth the hard work.

“We are making a difference,” he said. “We know we are, we can tell the difference.”

And it is all the more meaningful because by fostering they are honouring one of Harrison’s final wishes.  “I just hope he’s proud of us for doing it, which I think he would be,” Karen added.

“And he is watching down somewhere knowing that we’re doing something that he wanted.”