Dad celebrates love for Down Syndrome son Ben with a tattoo across his heart
Tribute to little battler who fought back from heart and bowel surgery
A Northern Ireland dad has spoken of how he was tattooed to show his pride for his son who has Down Syndrome.
Donaghadee man Alan Strain had 'Down Syndrome' inked just below his neck and stretching up to his shoulder.
"It may be the first thing people see in my son - now it will be what they see on me," the 30-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph.
Son Ben will be two in January, but already life has thrown all it could at the little battler.
He was diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome, but then at four months old had to undergo major heart surgery to close two tiny holes, a procedure that was a success.
While Alan's tattoo also carries the names of his two older children, it includes a scar down the centre of his chest - similar to that of his son's real reminder of the major surgery. Ben then had to undergo bowel surgery just months after his heart operation. It, however, was not as successful, but his condition is much improved. He is also partially deaf.
Described by his firefighter dad as a "smiler", Ben spent most of his first year in hospital, which took a toll on the family who have two older boys, Jude (9) and five-year-old Oliver.
Alan and partner Danielle, a part-time hairdresser and full-time carer for Ben, took it in turns to be at the hospital for their youngest. "I don't think the older boys saw us together the entire first year," recalled Alan.
"But they are fantastic boys, football crazy and in love with their brother.
"We were all put through the mill. But Ben just smiles, laughs and acts like it's nothing to him. He is made of strong stuff. All that could go wrong has gone wrong. To look back now we just think it's crazy any of us got through it.
"Now things are much better, and there's not so much doom and gloom."
Alan had been toying with the idea of a tattoo for some time to honour his family, but could not decide on what it should be.
After reading online of another father's Down Syndrome-inspired inking, he decided to go under the needle at Belfast man Brian Tipping's Bangor Eye Candy tattoo studio.
"I'm delighted with the finished result," said Alan. "Brian was a real help in deciding what to do. It wouldn't have happened without him. (It was) sore, mind.
"There has been so much negativity toward Down Syndrome of late, with these reports that people can choose to have an abortion if they learn their unborn child has the condition. It just feels like people are trying to kill off Down Syndrome, to have the perfect child and to make the world a better place when that couldn't be further from the case.
"But we are so proud of Ben. He brings so much love into any room and those that know him will tell you how he can make you laugh.
"He will hug you until you say stop.
"No matter what has been thrown at him he comes through it smiling, sticking his tongue out.
"Having a Down Syndrome child is something to embrace.
"It is something to be proud of, to get tattooed on you, rather than to be ashamed of.
"We never knew what we were missing until we had Ben.
"He has enriched our lives and we wouldn't have him - or any of our fabulous boys - any other way."