In debt to save husband!

What would you give up for your ill husband to get better? Your job? Your car? Julia Nash, 43, from Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, sacrificed everything

My husband, Pete, bent down and whispered something to each of our three boys. Then, he turned round to me.

'See you in a few hours then, Ju,' he said bravely.

I kissed him goodbye, and he walked into the surgery ward of Frenchay Hospital, Bristol. As the doors shut behind him, I broke down in tears.

My youngest son, Benn, 15, sobbed in my arms, his big brother Lewis, 17, was crying, too, and Lewis's twin, Peter, ran out in tears. God only knows what anyone walking past must have thought.

'What did your dad say to you?' I asked Lewis.

'He said to make sure we look after you, Mum,' he gulped.

It was 7.30am on 10 May 2007, and, after three years, we had reached the moment our whole family had been fighting for. So why were we all so upset? It had started back in July 2004, when I'd woken in the middle of the night to find Pete having a fit. I called an ambulance and he was rushed to Watford General Hospital.

'Is your husband epileptic?' the doctor asked. 'Been feeling a bit under the weather lately?'

Hardly. Pete was the fittest bloke I knew. He was self-employed, fitting alarm systems, and if he wasn't playing football with the boys, he was on his daily five-mile run.

So doctors did tests, and eight months later, in March 2005, we went to the Royal Free Hospital, North London, for the results. As soon as I saw the scan of Pete's brain, my eyes focused on the huge, white mass covering more than a quarter of it.

'I'm afraid you have an AVM,' the doctor told us.

Wide-eyed with fear, Pete and I listened as he explained that an Arteriovenous Malformation was a tangle of abnormal blood vessels on Pete's brain.

'If the blood vessels burst, it could kill you or leave you severely brain damaged,' he said.

'What could make it burst?' I asked.

'Anything,' he replied. 'Work, sport, even stress.'

We couldn't believe it. Pete was only 36...

'C-can it be removed?' I managed to stutter.

It couldn't.

'It's too unstable to operate on,' the doctor explained, as I burst into tears.

We both knew what that meant. At best, a life where Pete couldn't work, couldn't play with the boys. At worst ... well, it just didn't bear thinking about.

But Pete wasn't the sort of person to just lay down and die.

'Let's do something about this,' he vowed, defiant as ever.

I didn't need asking twice, and back at home, I went on the net, searching every hospital in the country that could perform the operation. Next, I emailed neurologists, asking if there was anything they could do

for Pete. Eventually, in early May 2006, we got a reply from Dr David Porter, a neurosurgeon at Frenchay Hospital. Within days, he examined Pete.

'I'm sure I could remove that for you,' Dr Porter said.

Pete and I didn't stop smiling all the way home. It was the answer to our prayers. Perhaps Pete would live to see the boys grow up, be there to see them get married, to keep me company when they left home. We had just one small problem. The operation cost £60,000. There was no way we could afford that kind of money. We approached our local Primary Care Trust, but they refused to pay, saying the op was too dangerous.

That night, I gulped back the tears and made a decision.

'We'll pay for it ourselves,' I said.

'But how?' Pete frowned.

It was a good question. Pete couldn't work and I'd had to pack in my job as a nail technician to be his carer.

'Fundraising,' I decided, getting straight on the phone to round up family support.

Within hours, I'd phoned my sister, Paula Burgin, 40, my brother, John Champion, 35, my mum, Barbara Palmer, 69, and Pete's parents, Michael, 70, and Muriel, 66, and they'd all come up with ideas. Fun runs, jumble sales, sponsored leg waxes. The boys organised discos and cake sales at school, and I went on the radio, to explain the situation, and ask for support. Boy, did we get it. Every week, thousands of pounds flooded in. Lewis, Peter, Benn and I even raised £2,000 in a few hours by doing a bungee jump.

'I'm scared,' Lewis said, as we reached the top of the 300ft crane.

I knew how he felt. Neither of us had a head for heights, but we'd do anything.

'Thank you,' Pete said afterwards, tears in his eyes. 'I don't know

how you're coping with it all.'

He was so overwhelmed by what people were doing for him, but he didn't know the half of it.

Pete and I had been out of work since March 2005, but unfortunately, that didn't stop the mortgage needing to be paid. It didn't mean that the fridge had started to magically fill up, or that the car was running on thin air.

I'd started using credit cards. In the nine months since he'd been diagnosed, I'd already maxed out one, was near the limit with another, with a third not far behind. And that's not even counting our overdraft.

'Are you going to tell Pete how bad things have got?' Paula asked me when she came round one day.

'I can't,' I said. 'It would kill him.'

We both sat there in silence. The truth was, it really could.

So every time I heard the letter box clatter in the mornings, I'd scoop up the mail before Pete could get there, and ignore the guilty twinge as I hid the bills. Concentrate on getting Pete better, I'd tell myself. Worry about the bills when he's well. Somehow, I managed to push our debts to the back of my mind and, after just eight weeks, we'd raised the full £60,000.

'Bring him in,' Dr Porter said.

Before Pete could have the AVM removed, he'd need five other operations to stabilise it. That took six months and, all the while, the debts kept on mounting But, after a long and very expensive slog, we'd made it. Now, Pete was going into surgery to have his head sliced in two and his face peeled down, while Dr Porter opened up his skull and removed the AVM.

Desperate to take the boys' minds off what their dad was going through, I took them into town. Twelve hours later, we arrived back at Frenchay, just in time to see Dr Porter come out of theatre. My heart missed a beat. Then, without saying a word, he opened his arms and smiled. My whole body sagged with relief and I just knew that it was all OK. The sleepless nights. The months of worry. Not to mention the money. It had all been worth it. Pete had survived.

I ran into Dr Porter's arms.

'I can't thank you enough,' I sobbed, tears in my eyes.

'I've done my bit,' he said. 'Now it's up to Pete to do his.'

He did that all right! We were warned that Pete would be in intensive care for a week, high dependency for another week and the general ward for a further week. But by the Sunday, just three days later, he was sat up, talking.

'You wouldn't know you'd been through anything,' I said.

Well, except for the 50 staples that ran across the top of his head!

'Thanks for everything, Ju,' he said. 'I couldn't have done it without you.'

When I bought the kids in, they excitedly climbed all over their dad's bed, not scared of hurting him for the first time in years.

It was perfect.

All except one thing. At the back of my mind, I couldn't help but think of the growing pile of credit card bills. Then, the realisation hit me.

It's time to tell Pete, I thought. Within a week, Pete was back home, but I was terrified of breaking the news to him. Heart racing, I pulled out the pile of unpaid bills from my bag, and blurted out the whole story.

'I didn't know what to do,' I admitted tearfully.

Pete went quiet. His smile faded.

Then he put his arms around me.

'I can't believe you coped with all that alone,' he said.

We added it all up - £25,000 in debt. No income.

'We're going to have to sell the house,' I gulped.

Just saying it broke my heart. We'd been here nearly seven years, our lads had grown up here. Our house held so many memories. We'd imagined growing old here. But we had no choice.

So, the next day, I contacted the estate agents. In the days that followed, I lived in constant fear of finding a buyer, of us being homeless. A year on, the house is still up for sale, but Pete's healthier than ever, and should be back at work soon. I'm still doing fundraising. Half of what I'll make goes to paying our mortgage, and the other half goes to other sufferers of AVM. But we won't let it get us down.

'We'll be back on our feet in no time,' Pete told me the other day.

As for selling the house, I'm not happy about the idea, but I don't regret keeping our debts a secret from Pete. I'd do it all again, if it meant saving my husband's life. Wouldn't you?

Pick Me Up Magazine - Friday 4th July 2008


I dedicate this site to Julia, for being the lovely and beautiful person that she is, and also for all the help and support she offers people on a day to day basis who need her help on AVMs.

I love you princess.

Your best friend Iqbal xxxxxxxxxx