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'Our baby girl lived for only eight days and I wanted to mark what would have been her first birthday by buying a cake for another couple's child'

This week Co Down teacher Gareth Bronte touched the hearts of millions of ITV's This Morning viewers... now read the full story behind his extraordinary act of kindness

Gareth Bronte with his wife Kirsty and son Caleb
Gareth Bronte with his wife Kirsty and son Caleb
Gareth and wife Kirsty meet Shannon, Lea Ni Bhriain and baby Akeelah on This Morning
Gareth and wife Kirsty meet Shannon, Lea Ni Bhriain and baby Akeelah on This Morning
The Peppa Pig cake
Gareth Bronte with his wife Kirsty and son Caleb. The couple lost their daughter Hannah after eight days
Gareth and Kirsty with son Caleb and daughter Hannah in hospital

By Lisa Smyth

As he watched his dad walk his two sisters down the aisle at each of their weddings, Gareth Bronte knew he wanted a daughter.

So, the moment Gareth (35) head of business at Dromore High School and his wife, Kirsty (33), a locum GP, found out they were expecting a little sister for their son, Caleb, he was overjoyed.

The start of Kirsty's pregnancy went smoothly and the excited couple discussed possible names and prepared their home for the arrival of their daughter.

"We knew we were expecting a girl as we'd gone for a gender scan," said Gareth.

"When Kirsty was pregnant with our first child Caleb, now aged four, her dad was very ill with cancer and we wanted to be able to tell him whether he was going to have a granddaughter or grandson.

"Unfortunately he passed away before we had the gender scan, but I think because we'd found out with Caleb we thought we would this time around too, just to help with planning.

"When we found out it was a little girl, I was just delighted, I really was.

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"I have two sisters and seeing my dad walking down the aisle at their weddings and the pride in his face, I think the smile was bigger on his face than theirs, so it really was something to find out we were going to have a little girl.

"As much as I'm a big rugby and football fan, and it's brilliant having a boy and I wouldn't change him for the world, to find out we were being blessed with a little girl, it was the icing on the cake for me."

The first sign that something might be wrong with their baby came at the 20-week scan when the sonographer raised a concern about her stomach.

"They just couldn't see the baby feeding properly so they sent Kirsty away to get a drink or to eat something so they could see something going into the baby's tummy," said Gareth.

"They still couldn't see it but everything else looked good so they sent us away and asked us to come back in a couple of weeks so they could check again.

"We weren't overly concerned and we went back two weeks later and thankfully the midwife did a full check.

"It turned out there was nothing wrong with her tummy, but she was a bit worried about the amount of fluid around Hannah and immediately sent us down to see the doctor.

"To be honest, it meant nothing to me until Kirsty looked at me and I saw the look on her face and I knew it was serious.

"Being a GP she knew the story, she knew it wasn't good, especially so early on in the pregnancy."

As Kirsty was losing amniotic fluid, both she and her baby were at risk of infection so she was admitted to hospital with the hope that the pregnancy would continue as long as possible.

Doctors warned the couple they could only intervene and treat their daughter if she was born after the 24-week mark, so Kirsty and Gareth turned to their faith to help them cope.

"It was torture," said Gareth.

"We just wanted to get to 24 weeks when the doctors said the baby would be viable and then when we got to that stage, we wanted to get to 26 weeks, they were all little milestones.

"Every day that Hannah stayed in there was better for her.

"We had a lot of care and support from our church and family and that helped us through, and we knew that whatever was in God's hands was going to happen."

It was a Sunday evening, just a few days before the 27-week mark in the pregnancy, that Kirsty's condition began to deteriorate.

With an infection taking hold, the decision was made to induce labour to give the best chance to both Kirsty and her baby.

Hannah Stella Bronte was born the following day, at 7.18am on September 10, weighing a tiny 2lbs 5.5oz.

Gareth added: "The first thing she did was cry and it was the most beautiful cry I've ever heard because it meant she was all right.

"We did get a bit of time to see her and then they put her in the incubator and she was given oxygen, but we could see her moving, and then she was whisked away to neonatal intensive care."

And so began a bedside vigil as Kirsty and Gareth spent every moment possible with their precious daughter.

They chose the name Hannah Stella - Hannah being Kirsty's middle name and Stella after Gareth's granny.

"Stella also means star," said Gareth.

To begin with, Hannah seemed to cope well and Gareth and Kirsty allowed themselves to hope she could survive.

But as the days passed, her tiny body struggled more and more and when Hannah was just eight days old, doctors told her parents there was nothing more they could do.

"It was like a cascade effect, it started off with her breathing and then everything started to go wrong," added Gareth.

"We were in the corridor and they called us to her bedside and told us Hannah was in real difficulty and they had one last shot and if it didn't work, she was really struggling.

"Almost straight away it was obvious it hadn't worked so they told us the best thing we could do was spend some time with her.

"They moved us into a side room and opened up the incubator and we were both able to hold her for the first time.

"We spent a little bit of time with her and then the family came in and everyone held her.

"We brought Caleb in, he was three at the time, and Hannah was out of the incubator but she still had tubes in to keep her alive while we were getting to hold her.

"Caleb meeting his little sister was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, he walked straight over, kissed her on the head and said, 'my wee gorgeous'.

"We'd been worried about Caleb seeing Hannah like that, but we were so thankful then that he did and he has that little memory of her.

"That bit of time was so precious and she passed in our arms. It was hard going home, we had done up the nursery for her and it was sitting ready and we had to register her death on the same day we registered her birth, but we know it was part of God's plan.

"We're content that some day we're going to see Hannah again and we're really looking forward to it."

In the past year since losing Hannah, the couple have been keen to do what they can to keep her memory alive.

Kirsty came up with the idea of running a 10k A Day In May event, which involved them completing 10km every day throughout the month.

With the support of friends, they managed to raise an incredible £28,000 for the neonatal unit at the Royal Belfast Hospital.

More recently, the family wanted to mark Hannah's first birthday.

Gareth said: "Caleb wanted to release a balloon that would fly up to Heaven so Hannah would get it, which was a nice idea for him and we managed to get a pink star balloon."

For his part, Gareth decided to pay for a cake for a stranger who was celebrating their birthday.

He continued: "I know I'm never going to be able to buy Hannah a cake, or walk her down the aisle, or any of the other things you do for your child and I just thought it was a little act of kindness.

"I managed to get away from school at lunchtime and went to the bakery and told them what I wanted to do.

"There were a few tears and then they found a cake for a little girl's first birthday, and that was the one that I paid for.

"All I wanted was to spread a little bit of joy and happiness."

However, Gareth's generous act made headlines when the family of the little girl whose cake he paid for posted about it on social media.

He even appeared on ITV's This Morning programme. The gesture brought to light when Lea Ni Bhriain, who had ordered the Peppa Pig cake for her one-year-old niece Akeelah from the Windsor Home Bakery in Banbridge, arrived to pay for it only to find someone had beaten them to it.

"There's still a stigma and people don't like to talk about a baby who has passed away," he said.

"As far as we're concerned, we're a family of four.

"After I went on This Morning, I went into a shop I go to every day and the woman behind the counter said to me, 'You're Hannah's daddy' and that's something no one ever calls me, so that was really special.

"Hannah was a great girl and we were blessed to have her for eight days, there are parents who have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth and never got to see or hold their baby. She had her mummy's eyes, she had the most gorgeous eyes and she got to know my big, booming voice in those eight days and I have a great memory of her hearing my voice and opening her eyes.

"I'll always remember that.

"Baby Loss Awareness Week is coming up and our church is holding a special service on October 13 and I'm going to be speaking at it.

"When someone loses a baby, it's so important that they are able to talk about them. The baby is their child, the baby existed, they are loved and I just want to encourage people to not be afraid to talk about them."

The service of remembrance for Baby Loss Awareness Week takes place at Cornerstone Church, Rathfriland, Young Farmers Hall, at 8pm on October 13

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