A brave pregnant mum will give the most selfless gift of all this Christmas – her unborn baby’s organs to another dying child.
Hayley Martin knows from her 20-week scan that the child she is carrying, already named Ava-Joy, will die during labour or moments after birth.
But instead of taking the termination offered by doctors to avoid the trauma of still-birth, she and husband Scott have decided to complete the pregnancy.
And it is all so that their tiny daughter’s organs can go to other babies in desperate need of transplants.
In the most remarkable show of festive giving, Hayley, who is likely to be induced in Christmas week, now hopes her unborn child will live on in the babies she saves.
And she has even vowed to donate one of her own kidneys in Ava-Joy’s name as soon as she has recovered from the birth.
(Image: Triangle News)
Hayley, 30, said: “Our child is going to die no matter what, but if we can try and save somebody else the grief we are going through, it will all be worth it.
“It was not an easy decision but it was the right decision, and it has helped me cope with the heartbreak.
“A part of her will live on, she won’t be completely gone. She will be alive in somebody else.
“It is her Christmas gift to other poorly babies. And I want to donate my kidney too because Ava will be born without any to donate. I want to give one in her honour.”
The Martins, who already have three children, were thrilled to learn they were expecting another baby earlier this year.
But that happiness soon turned to heartbreak when they discovered the tot would not survive beyond pregnancy.
The couple, from Hull, East Yorks, went to their five-month scan
expecting to find out the sex of their child, but instead were given a diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder – bilateral renal agenesis.
It is always fatal and means the baby has no kidneys and is not surrounded
by enough amniotic fluid, causing malformed lungs.
While many parents would choose to terminate and avoid the trauma of giving birth to a dying child, Hayley decided to continue with the pregnancy and give birth to her daughter purely to be able to donate her viable organs.
She said: “Of course it’s heartbreaking. I see other pregnant mums happily expecting and I feel such sorrow.
(Image: Triangle News)
“I have all the symptoms of a healthy pregnancy and I can feel Ava inside me but I know I won’t get to bring her up at the end of it. Even walking past pregnant
women on the street or seeing babies in the supermarket can leave me in floods of tears.
“But I am determined to create something positive out of this agonising experience.
“I also know there will be babies out there who could have a chance of life with Ava’s healthy organs. Why should two babies die if one can be saved?”
Ava-Joy has to weigh a minimum of 5.5lbs to become a donor.
The couple are not sure exactly what their daughter will be able to donate, but her heart valves, liver cells and pancreas are likely candidates. The couple will then write letters to the recipients to thank them for helping their daughter live on.
Hayley, who already has daughters Kiowa, seven, and Layla, five, and two-year-old son Oliver, was ecstatic when she found out she was pregnant.
She said: “I remember our first scan picture and we could just see this little baby who looked like it was waving – it was so beautiful.”
But a few months later something didn’t feel right and her stomach didn’t feel big enough.
The Martins found out the devastating news during the 20-week ultrasound scan.
Ava-Joy didn’t have kidneys or a bladder and her lungs were underdeveloped, meaning she would never be able to breathe. The doctors explained it was a terminal diagnosis and their baby would stop breathing very soon after birth.
Scott, 30, an events first-aider, said: “We went home that night and couldn’t say a word to each other. I felt like I was choking.
“Hayley went upstairs and sank into the bed, just lying there in the dark.
“The only thing we had bought for Ava-Joy at the time was this white baby blanket. Hayley has slept with it every night since we found out.”
The couple was told termination was an option because they were still before the 24-week cut-off point.
But they knew instantly they wanted to carry on with the pregnancy and started researching organ donation that night. Ava-Joy’s due date is January 25 but it is likely she will be induced in Christmas week so she is not still-born.
If Ava-Joy doesn’t pass away during labour, doctors are hoping the couple will have at least a few moments with their daughter while she is still alive.
Hayley said: “Even if I get just one second of her opening her little eyes and looking at me, that would be a moment that no one can ever take away from me.”
If Ava-Joy takes just one breath, she will be considered legally alive and will get a birth certificate.
Once she passes away, her organs and tissue will be quickly retrieved and she will then be put in a Cuddle Cot, which cools the baby’s body and prolongs the amount of time parents can spend with their dead child. The couple will be able to dress Ava-Joy in the outfits they have bought for her, take photographs and stay close to her.
This extra time will give the family the chance to say goodbye. Hayley and Scott are also starting a charity project to help other families who decide to carry on a pregnancy after a fatal diagnosis.
They want to support families by creating memory packs to help them capture every precious moment.
Ava’s Butterfly Baby Pathway will provide families with 4D scans, bump casts, journals, memory books and heartbeat bears.
The couple themselves took a recording of Ava-Joy’s heartbeat and had it put into a bear to give them something of her to keep after she slips away.
Hayley said: “Every night I have a bath with Ava-Joy. She tends to kick and move around more when I bathe.
(Image: Triangle News)
“I make it as fun as possible, I use bath bombs or I read or sing to her.
“All the stuff a mother might do when the baby is born, I am doing it now.” Hayley hopes her story will also encourage other mums who receive a fatal diagnosis to complete their pregnancy to help other desperately ill tots.
The couple will not shield their three children from the tragedy.
They plan to take out Ava-Joy’s memory box on special occasions so the family can talk about her and remember her.
“Ava-Joy, no matter what, will always be my daughter and she will always be my children’s little sister,” Hayley said.
The couple are also trying to raise money through internet crowdfunding to pay for a special funeral.
Hayley said: “I am not going to be able to give her a birthday or Christmas present so the funeral is really important.
“We want to say goodbye in a way that mirrors just how special and loved she truly is to us.”
Voice of The Sunday People: Tot death that won’t be in vain
Courage, compassion and generosity can be over-used words.
But you could use them over and over again about Hayley Martin and still not come close to the enormity of her gift this Christmas.
It is not easy for any pregnant woman to be told the baby she is carrying is certain to die at birth or soon after. But doctors offered the easiest way out they knew, which was a termination.
Hayley would have none of it. If baby Ava-Joy was going to die then she would not die in vain.
And if that meant taking her to full-term in the full knowledge she would be there at her death, then Hayley was up for it.
Her calculation was that this way she would not let two babies die when at least one could be saved by Ava-Joy’s organs.
And Hayley is even prepared to throw in one of her own kidneys because her baby does not have any.
Husband Scott is fully behind his wife’s extraordinary selflessness and his bravery is also to be praised.
Of all the gifts to be exchanged this Christmas, none will be more precious than Ava-Joy’s gift of life.