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Derry couple's joy as son they were told might not survive begins first day at school

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Shea Simpson before his first full day at Rainey Endowed

Shea Simpson before his first full day at Rainey Endowed

Shea Simpson as a baby, born weighing just 1lb 1oz

Shea Simpson as a baby, born weighing just 1lb 1oz

Shea Simpson with his parents Ciara and Charlie

Shea Simpson with his parents Ciara and Charlie

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Shea Simpson before his first full day at Rainey Endowed

When Co Londonderry boy Shea Simpson was born, doctors warned his parents he might not even survive his first day.

Weighing just 1lb 1oz and born at 25 weeks, parents Charlie and Ciara Simpson were prepared for the worst.

But after spending his first six months in hospital, not speaking for the first five years of his life, being diagnosed with autism and registered blind, and overcoming pneumonia, today will be a proud day for the Bellaghy couple and their son as he heads off for his first full day at Rainey Endowed Grammar School.

"Looking back, we can't really believe everything Shea's come though to get to this stage of his life," said dad Charlie.

"I have to admit when we put up a photo on Facebook of Shea in his new uniform last week, we cried when we saw the comments from people.

"It's very emotional for us and we're so proud of what Shea has been able to achieve."

Life has been a battle for the family since Shea's dramatic arrival in March 2007.

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Mum Ciara said: "I'd never been pregnant before and I know I looked horrendous at the time, but assumed that was normal.

"It was when I took a severe pain on my right hand side that a friend told me I'd need to get checked.

"I went to the Mater Hospital and they found my blood pressure was dangerously high.

"They told me I had what's known as HELLP Syndrome, which was as a consequence of undiagnosed pre-eclampsia.

"There was a real risk of blood clots and I was told the baby would be coming out there and then. It was all a bit of a shock.

"Basically, they told me if my baby was delivered naturally there would likely be no chance of survival and that a caesarean section would increase the baby's chances, but put me at risk of bleeding. We chose the caesarean section to at least have a chance."

The drama wasn't over, as doctors also said there was a chance their baby would be under 500g and that they would not be able to resuscitate any baby born under that weight.

Charlie said: "When Shea was born he weighed just 1lb 1oz.

"I could fit him in the palm of my hand, he was so small.

"He was just 25 weeks.

"Thankfully he was 506g, and he had to be resuscitated immediately, but we didn't know if he was going to survive those first few hours. I started writing a diary of it, as we didn't know how long we would have with him.

"Ciara was so ill she couldn't see him for two days and it was six months before Shea was well enough to come home.

"We can't praise the staff at the neo-natal intensive unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital enough for all they did for Shea during those early months."

Even when released from hospital, Shea needed an oxygen tank at home to help him survive. "We even had to push him around in a specially adapted pram with an oxygen supply," said Charlie.

"And he was being fed through a nasal gastric tube, but we had so much help from Margery Boyle, our paediatric nurse, who was always on the end of the phone and looked after his needs brilliantly - and ours as well.

"Then there was the issue of us having to go back to work. That's where Ciara's mum stepped in."

Grandmother Sue McErlean helped the couple, both teachers at Rainey Endowed School, get back to work and a few years later there was the issue of Shea going to school.

"He got a place at Magherafelt Nursery School, but even at that stage he hadn't spoken a word," said Charlie, who is a an assistant principal at the school and is also co-ordinating special educational needs. "Shea didn't talk at all in those first five years."

The couple were determined to give Shea the best opportunities and got him a place at Spires Integrated Primary School in Magherafelt.

"Again, we can't praise Spires Primary and the staff there enough. He had a very special lady in Cathy McKee helping him throughout his primary school life and we've no doubt he wouldn't be where he is today without her.

"He'd started talking and always said, 'I love Mrs McKee and Mrs McKee loves me!'

"Shea started to excel at school. It was fantastic for him and even at that stage he was starting to say, 'I want to go to Rainey Endowed'. We thought that was impossible, but he was determined to prove us wrong!"

Shea did, in more ways than one. "I remember when he was jumping on a bouncy castle with his friends, I think he was about seven years old, the PEG tube (a feeding tube to the stomach) came out.

"No-one noticed for a while and Shea told us he wasn't putting it back in. He said he'd take soup the rest of his life if he needed to. And that was that.

"He won another battle!"

Shea still has plenty to overcome, his dad said.

"He has very limited vision and is registered blind and has also been diagnosed with autism," he said. "We've had a lot of help from the RNIB and the Angel Eyes charity.

"The work they do with children like Shea is amazing and we hope they see what he has achieved and can be proud of all they've done. We told Shea all along he would have to work so hard to get to Rainey Endowed, but he was determined to do it.

"Now we're telling him he'll have to work even harder.

"It was emotional to see him standing there in his uniform for his induction day last Friday.

"He was nervous but some of his friends will be with him and he'll make plenty more.

"Rainey Endowed had everything in place for him to start and he managed to call me 'Sir' during that first morning.

"When school ended he asked me if it was okay to call me dad again!

"He was so proud to pull on his Rainey Endowed uniform and we were so proud to see him do it.

"He still has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but we'll keep on focusing on what he can do, not what he can't.

"He's taken on every challenge so far and beaten them all."


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