Engage: Couple who lost both children to illness honour son’s wish by fostering

A couple who lost both their children to rare illnesses have become foster parents to honour one of their son’s final wishes.

Karen and Paul Ledsham (pictured), from St Helens, Lancashire, said fostering had given them a purpose again after their daughter Abigail and son Harrison (also, pictured) died of separate rare conditions at the ages of one and 12 respectively.

The idea to foster came from Harrison, when his sister was unwell with Sandhoff disease, a disorder that attacks the nervous system.

Mrs Ledsham, 48, a nurse, told the PA news agency: “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 any more, and that kind of conversation was there.

“At the time we said well, it’s something to think about after she died.”

Abigail died in 2008, five days before her second birthday.

The idea to foster then came up again when Harrison himself became ill with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, about five years later.

“He did bring it up again, about ‘it would be lovely to have children in the house’,” Mrs Ledsham said.

“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 a moment Mrs Ledsham said confirmed the worst fears they had had over the previous five years.

“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). And 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,” Mrs Ledsham said.

“He always wanted to be a doctor, he said he wanted to find a cure for the condition his sister had.”

Mr Ledsham, 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 or not an amputation would be necessary.

Mr Ledsham said: “He actually came around, this was what the surgeon told us, and 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’.”

Shortly after the operation, the family were able to take a sightseeing trip to London, thanks to financial help from the Henry Dancer Days charity.

Mrs Ledsham said: “I think Henry Dancer Days was the first charity that contacted us and offered us a grant to make some memories, and at the time it was like ‘what do we need memories for? He’s going to live’.

“But after a few days of thinking about it, it was the best thing that could have happened.”

The family stayed in a hotel in central London and spent four days seeing the sights.

“Harrison had always wanted to go to London, among other places, and it was just something that helps you get through,” Mrs Ledsham said.

After Harrison died – six years ago on Friday – any thought of fostering was put to the back of their minds.

But their interest was reignited about 18 months later when they walked past a stall in a shopping centre offering information about fostering.

After discussing it together, they 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,” Mrs Ledsham 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.”

The couple, who are currently fostering two siblings under the age of 10, say fostering “brings purpose” to their lives.

Mrs Ledsham said: “We feel, or felt, ‘well what is the point?’

“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.”

Mr Ledsham said fostering is “challenging” but has brought “laughter” back into their lives as well as rewards that are 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 in 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,” Mr Ledsham said.

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

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Henry Dancer Days / PA.