Our best Christmas gift ever is baby they told us we'd never have
His inability to father children almost destroyed Gareth's marriage, but after radical surgery in the US, he's now the proud dad of little miracle Duncan
A young Co Antrim couple are celebrating the best Christmas present ever - the baby son they were told they could never have.
It has taken Cullybackey husband and wife Gareth and Leanne Gault five trips to the United States, a lot of medical intervention and a great deal of hope and faith to be blessed with their first child, baby Duncan.
The little lad was born on October 23 in Antrim Area Hospital, weighing in at a healthy 8lbs 13lbs, but his route to life came with many complications.
After several years of trying for a baby with no joy, Gareth was diagnosed with azoospermia which basically meant he had no sperm, dashing all hopes for the couple to start a family.
Not only that, Gareth weighed around 30 stone which he thought was contributing to the couple's problems.
Gareth and Leanne were married on August 8, 2006 at the ages of 23 and 24. Both were extremely career driven with Gareth working as a salesman and Leanne as a busy teacher. Having kids never featured in their plans for some time but after two or three years and being in a better financial position, they thought it was the right time to try for children.
However, after six months of trying Leanne still was not pregnant. One year passed and still nothing. It was then Gareth decided they needed help.
"We thought everything would be fine and that Leanne would fall pregnant naturally but after a year trying we knew something was wrong," said Gareth. "Within my health insurance there was a provision for investigations and that's what we did. We went private to see what was going on, or not.
"Leanne had a blood test and everything was fine with her. However, after taking a sperm sample from me, all was not so fine. I remember sitting in the chair at the end of the table and phoning through for my results. I was told I had no sperm and was diagnosed with non-obstructive azoospermia, or in other words, testicular failure."
Gareth was always a very positive person and was there for everyone in his family should they ever need any help in life.
He was Leanne's rock and was always very strong for her. However, when he was told the news that he could never become a father his world crashed before him.
"I was in the house that day myself and I broke down when the results came in," said Gareth. "I really felt like I was a failure, that I wasn't a real man. I just wanted to run away from it all."
At that time Gareth was weighing 30 stone on the scales and he felt his obesity could have been affecting his ability to father a child.
He bottled all his emotions inside him and refused to talk to people about it. He remained strong on the outside for Leanne but inside the news was beating him up.
Gareth started to push Leanne away as well as his mother Anne and other members of his family.
"I just got depressed," he said. "I blamed others for what was going on. I even went to the NHS for second opinions and they told me that nothing could be done to help me with this condition.
"It wasn't that I had a low sperm count, it was that I had no sperm count at all. The doctors in Northern Ireland, although they tried, could not help me. I felt lost."
Gareth started to work even more than usual and took to driving lorries at night, just to "get away from it all".
He found it hard to cope and went two to three nights a week without sleep out on the lorries. Then came Christmas 2012, which although it was a very hard time for the family, was actually a turning point in Gareth and Leanne's lives.
On Christmas Day Gareth ate his dinner but went to bed for most of the day, ignoring his own family as he felt he could not face them.
However, in early 2013 he started to open up about his problem and managed to tell some of his friends who were of great support to him.
But then something happened that was to change the course of the couple's lives.
Even though private doctors and Gareth's local doctors told him, because of the azoospermia he couldn't have kids, he was undeterred and wanted to find out for himself why he had this problem and what could be done about it.
"It wasn't the fact that I couldn't have kids that was killing me, it was because I had no closure on the subject," said Gareth.
"I wanted to know why this had happened to me even though there is no history in my family of azoospermia.
"I happened to be on the internet one night and came across this doctor in the United States talking about the same thing on a TV show. That doctor was Dr Paul Turek and everything he said made sense to me. He had pioneered new research into azoospermia and had a number of success stories. It didn't take me long to send him an email simply stating my problem and asking for help to find closure."
Dr Turek replied to Gareth's email and they arranged a meeting at the doctor's surgery in San Francisco in the summer of 2013.
This was great news for Leanne as she finally had her Gareth back.
"He was going through a tough time and was shutting everyone out, including me," said Leanne. "But after speaking to Dr Turek, Gareth finally had his fight back and I had my Gareth back.
"The events leading up to that were having an adverse effect on our marriage but this hope made us stronger than ever."
The couple arranged a two-week holiday in the US and spent a day in Dr Turek's surgery where he completed tests to try and find sperm in Gareth. This involved injecting a needle 37 times into Gareth's testicles and examining the cells under a microscope.
"That hurt," said Gareth. "We returned home and awaited the results. It was the longest two weeks I have had to endure."
When the results were in Dr Turek called Gareth. The news was good, the doctor had found sperm. He told Gareth: "If we work through this, you will be a father."
"He found eight sites that contained sperm on one of my testicles," said Gareth.
Christmas 2013 was a better one for the Gaults who were just itching to get back to the States to start treatment. In January 2014 Gareth underwent surgery again under the hands of Dr Turek to remove sperm. In the meantime, also in the US, Leanne had commenced her IVF cycle to coincide with Gareth's operation.
"When Gareth came round from the operation all he could see was the doctor's thumbs up telling him it had been a success," said Leanne.
The procedure went well and the eggs were fertilised with a process known as Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). However, due to uncontrollable events the embryo transfer could not be made and the couple missed the cycle.
"We went home happy that the operation on Gareth had been a success but disappointed that we missed the cycle," said Leanne.
As Leanne is a secondary school teacher she needed to arrange her trips to America to coincide with the school holidays. The couple went back to the US again in June 2014 for an embryo transfer which in itself was a success.
However, tragedy struck in July 2014 when Leanne had a miscarriage, leaving the couple totally devastated. "That broke Leanne's heart," said Gareth. "We were both totally devastated."
"I was then even more determined to lose weight as I was blaming that as well. Again I went private to look at having a gastric band fitted but the guy in charge really angered me, telling me it was my fault and that I would never lose weight. I came home and found a personal trainer, George Elliott, who had opened a new gym in Cullybackey. I have been attending his gym ever since."
October 2014 came and saw Gareth and Leanne once again trekking to the US for another embryo transfer but sadly it did not take and wasn't a success.
Not giving up, the couple returned again in February 2015 and this time it worked. Leanne became pregnant and their dreams of being parents moved up a gear.
"Our dreams finally came true," said Gareth.
Leanne said: "Duncan really is the best Christmas blessing we could ever wish for. He is such a good baby."
Gareth has since lost eight-and-a-half stone and has run two half marathons this year. "With the arrival of Duncan I received closure on what was wrong with me. I have waited a long time to be Santa Claus to our own child so this year, even though Duncan is too small to know, this Christmas will be a very special one indeed."