A young widow who battled to try to save her 29-year-old husband after he suffered a massive heart attack at their Londonderry home has asked the public for a poignant favour - to send the couple's heartbroken three-year-old twins a birthday card later this month.
Bronagh Burke's husband Thomas, a keen keep fit enthusiast, collapsed at the couple's Culmore home on April 23. Despite her frantic attempts to save him as their young children looked on in horror, Thomas sadly passed away.
In a cruel coincidence, the tragedy happened five years after Bronagh lost her own father Colm to a massive heart attack.
Childhood sweethearts Bronagh and Thomas had tied the knot just 18 months ago and were looking forward to celebrating their precious twins Aoife and Adam's fourth birthday on June 28.
Now the heartbroken young family are facing life without beloved husband and devoted father Thomas - or 'Burkey' as Bronagh, also 29, affectionately called him.
"Thomas was really quite fit," she says. "He went out for a cycle on Thursday, April 23. He didn't go too far. Cycling would have been very normal for him. But he came home and said that he didn't feel well. He said that he would go for a shower and I was getting the dinner ready. I went upstairs and gave him some Jelly Babies sweets and some water. He came around a bit and his colour came back. He came downstairs and got his dinner and the twins were eating theirs at the kitchen table. He said again that he really didn't feel well. I asked him if he wanted me to ring him an ambulance and he said no.
"I rang my mum, she's a staff nurse, and when I was talking to her Thomas said that he was starting to get chest pains.
"My daddy died of a massive heart attack five years ago so I was worried. Thomas was shouting in the background that he was grand and he'd be alright. I told my mum that I was going to ring him an ambulance and as soon as I spoke those words, Thomas took a massive heart attack."
Bronagh immediately started to carry out CPR on her husband while she waited for help to come.
"I had to do 16 minutes of CPR on him until the ambulance arrived," she recalls.
"Obviously when I was doing the CPR the children were there and witnessed the whole thing. They remained so calm. They were so good. They ran out the front door and went to the neighbour's house and shouted 'help' as loud as they could. They are only three-years-old, but they acted so much older. They were so brave.
"Finally the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. They tried their best. They shocked Thomas and took him straight to the hospital. But when he arrived there they pronounced him dead. I know, in my eyes, that he died in our house. It happened literally in seconds."
Thomas worked as a senior daycare worker in learning disability with the Western Trust. Bronagh, who also works with the trust as a respite support worker, says that her husband's death came as such a shock because he was young and fit with no underlying conditions. Doctors have told her they will carry out further investigations because they are as baffled as she is as to what caused his death.
Since the tragedy, Bronagh has been posting some of her and her children's poignant journey of loss to her Instagram account - @weeburkes_journey - and says that sharing what they are going through has helped enormously.
"It is just horrendous," she says. "And writing about it has helped me so much. I have been grieving for my daddy for the last five years and that was unbearable, but losing Thomas is different.
"Losing my husband is unimaginable grief. This pain is completely different. I find this journey so lonely because I only have the twins. The two most strongest men that I had are now gone. I find Instagram especially a good place to express myself and explain my journey. I have been very raw on it. I have been very open and honest on there. I have cried, I have laughed. I have talked. I find that it is really helping me, just having that platform.
"I have had two other girls in the same situation reach out to me. I wouldn't have had people to talk to if I didn't have Instagram. With the whole Covid situation there is no help for me at the moment. Everything is about waiting lists and you can't see anyone face-to-face and that is tough."
Bronagh also hopes that by talking publicly about what has happened - and the emotional turmoil she is going through - she can light the path for those starting off on the dark road she cruelly found herself thrust upon just five weeks ago.
Reflecting on how she is coping at the moment, she continues: "Sometimes I don't know where I get my strength from. I hope I can help others. I think my daddy and Thomas - or 'Burkey' as I called him - are giving me strength to carry on. I have two angels guiding my way."
Understandably little Aoife and Adam, who witnessed the traumatic events as they unfolded in their home just weeks ago, are struggling to come to terms with it all. They also miss their dad terribly, which is heartbreaking for Bronagh to see.
"The trauma that they have now is unimaginable," she says. "They really struggle with sleep and get a lot of flashbacks. They are at an age where they are asking a lot of questions that I don't have the answers to.
"During the day they are fine. I would have my mum and a good bunch of best friends who have rallied around. At night time it can take a long time for them to get to sleep.
"Aoife thinks that her daddy is going to come back down from Heaven. It's trying to explain things to her. They have so many questions. I'm not going to say they are doing great, because they are far from it.
"They are on a waiting list to get some play therapy to help them. With everything on hold because of Covid everything is very much up in the air. I'm trying to battle my own grief and I am trying to help them also."
When Bronagh's friend Ceva Sharkey floated the notion of asking people to send birthday cards to the twins, Bronagh said she embraced the idea because it would "take away their pain for five minutes".
"When Ceva suggested it I just said 'let's do it'," she says.
"I would do anything to take away their pain for five minutes. It would be a focus for them. I would do anything to put a smile on their faces.
"Between my father's birthday on June 8, Father's Day on June 21 and the twins' birthday on June 28, this is a really hard month for us. So if I can make them smile when they see lots of birthday cards, it will be worth it. They have been through so much."
Bronagh says the loss of their father has had a profound effect on the children.
"I lost my father at 24-years-old," she adds. "I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose your daddy at three-years-old.
"Thomas was such a devoted father. His whole world revolved around the twins.
"And to have his life and future just snatched away from him like that... it is just brutal. It is unbearable.
"I just have to get up every day for my two children. I don't know where I would be if I didn't have them. They are helping me so much."
If you want to send Aoife and Adam a birthday card before their birthday on June 28, please send it to 24 Gelvin Gardens, Trench Road, Waterside, Derry, BT47 2DQ