Leanne French nearly died three times to become a mother.
Little Arya is the baby who all the odds stacked against her, and yet she and her mum survived.
In the past 12 months, Leanne has had cervical cancer, a ruptured heart and a stroke. But the 41-year-old was so desperate to become a mum that she overcame them all.
A year ago she turned 40 and with that big milestone came the tragic news that a recent pap smear was cancerous.
She had the tumour removed from her cervix but her oncologist believed it was either still present, or would soon return.
This was the first stumbling block to becoming a mum.
This is the miracle little girl whose existence had so many obstacles in her way. Source: Vanessa
Oncologist Assoc Prof Tom Jobling told the Herald Sun that usually a hysterectomy was in order.
“Under normal circumstances the safest option is a radical hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes,” Assoc Prof Jobling said.
“She was pretty unhappy with that, she wanted to have children,” he said.
A six month window to have a baby
Leanne and her partner George wanted to give having a baby a shot. They had a window of three to six months to fall pregnant.
“We realise the massive risk were taking, we talked about it a lot and went to see other specialists. I was scared, George was scared, mum was scared — we were all scared, but we just hoped for the best,” Leanne said.
“We said to them ‘can we hold off on the hysterectomy for three to six months just to see if it does happen? If it doesn’t happen we will be the first to come back for the hysterectomy because we’ll know it wasn’t meant to be’.”
Pregnant at 40
At the age of 40, Leanne miraculously became pregnant in just a few weeks. She did nine pregnancy tests, she was so astounded.
But then she and George faced nine months of hoping the cancer would not return.
Leanne and George married during her pregnancy. Source: supplied.
“We followed her during the pregnancy and the plan was for her to have an elective caesarean at 38 weeks followed by a radical hysterectomy about six weeks after she had the baby,” Assoc Prof Jobling said.
The pregnancy followed like a charmed dream, without sickness or major incidence and without the cancer returning.
But it was the calm before the storm.
Leanne also had Marfan syndrome, a condition from birth that can impact heart, eyes and lungs.
And so it was that the day before her elective cesarean, Leanne woke with horrific chest pains.
Doctors quickly realised that Leanne’s heart was tearing apart and could kill both her and her baby.
Open heart surgery and caesarean at the same timeShe needed to have emergency open heart surgery and an emergency caesarean at the same time.
George recalls the moment he found out: “There was two phone calls and the second one was as she was literally going in (to surgery) … I spoke to her, she was crying … it was a goodbye conversation,” he said.
Monash Medical Centre obstetrician Dr Danielle Quittner had a heartbreaking 30 seconds to deliver the baby safely so she wouldn’t be affected by the anesthetic for the open heart surgery.
“She didn’t have long. It was a very delicate balance between delivering the baby in a timely fashion but also keeping Leanne stable and minimising blood loss because the cardiothoracics were going to need to have her in the best condition possible,” Dr Quittner said.
Arya is born
Arya, Leanne and George’s little miracle baby, was born healthy.
“It was surreal: on one hand we have a baby, on the other hand my wife is going through heart surgery as we are wheeling baby down the hall,” George said.
After an extremely complicated and dangerous operation on her heart, Leanne was put into an induced coma.
Yet another emergency
Fourteen hours late Leanne awoke to greet her relieved husband and new baby.
While she has no memory of them being taken, photos were taken of the first tender moments when miracle mum Leanne French first held her baby daughter Arya in between having her life saved from a burst heart and waking from a coma, before undergoing a stroke-like seizure. Picture: supplied.
And then the unthinkable happened. One moment she was feeding Arya, the next she was having a massive seizure.
Leanne suffered from what doctors believed was a stroke. She was paralysed on her left side. Doctors scrambled to find the right medicine, while she had several other smaller seizures.
And then another miracle. Leanne woke and was able to feel her left side.
“I remember when I was coming out (of the coma) and they kept saying ‘squeeze my hand’,” Leanne said.
“They kept asking me to wriggle my left toes and I didn’t know what was going on — why would they want me to do that?
“A lot what had been going on they had not been telling me because they did not want to stress me out.”
Amazingly, the new mum was shortly able to return home.
Leanne with George and their baby daughter Arya. Picture: David Caird
Cancer was gone
Even more amazingly, the cancer had gone, and the stroke was found to be a temporary symptom of eclampsia.
Leanne said she was just happy to put the most stressful year of her life behind her and focus on Arya.
“I am exactly the way I was before all this,” she said.
“I have been asked if I would have another one: there is no bloody chance.”
Anyone who would like to help Leanne and George with their medical bills can donate to Westpac account 779671, BSB 733341.