'They said my baby might not survive... now my little miracle will help heal hurt of losing my only brother'
Olivia Hope has brought joy to her family at difficult time of year
A young woman who lost her brother in tragic circumstances at Christmas five years ago has told how her "miracle baby" has been the perfect festive gift.
Laura Connor (28) was determined to continue with a difficult pregnancy and, despite being told there was a high risk of miscarriage, she gave birth to a beautiful little girl in September.
And now that Olivia Hope, who has Down Syndrome and a serious heart condition, is 12 weeks old, doting mum Laura said her infant daughter will brighten up a festive period that will be both challenging and laced with poignant memories.
Laura's 20-year-old brother Christopher - her only sibling - was found dead at a disused hotel in Portstewart on December 17, 2011, after a night out in the seaside town.
He sustained a fatal head injury after entering the site of the former Montague Arms, and lay undiscovered for three days while his frantic, distraught family appealed for information and searched for him everywhere they could think of.
Their hopes were dashed when Christopher's body was found by his cousin, Simon Creighton.
A post-mortem examination determined that the young barman had died as a result of bruising and fluid on the brain associated with a fractured skull.
Christopher's death, in the run-up to Christmas, shocked the north west community, and many local people laid wreaths at the scene of the tragedy.
Fearing a repeat of what happened to Christopher, Laura pleaded for something to be done about the unrestricted access to the Church Street site, which was subsequently boarded up.
"Five years on we still don't know what exactly happened to Christopher that night," said Laura.
"His anniversary (of his death) is next week. There was only the two of us. We were really close."
Christopher was one of the first people Laura thought of when a routine scan revealed that her pregnancy with Olivia was going to be anything but straightforward. "When I found out about Olivia I thought: 'Why us again?'" she recalled. "After losing Christopher so suddenly, the news about Olivia was hard to deal with, and I really wished he had been around."
Hairdresser Laura, who has two other children - six-year-old Charlie and Molly Chrissy (4) - with partner David Hutchinson (31) revealed she had a frightening premonition just hours prior to the scan. "The night before I had two dreams that I was going to have a sick baby and that it would be Down Syndrome," she said. "It was freaky. I kept it to myself.
"I didn't even mention it to David until they suspected there was a problem."
After further tests confirmed the condition of the baby, Laura, who is from Coleraine, opted not to have a termination.
She added: "They told me Olivia would probably never survive, but an abortion isn't something I would consider, even though they said I would have a scary road ahead. I just wasn't giving up hope." The following months were anxious ones for Laura and David, filled with weekly scans, check-ups and meetings with a cardiac doctor.
"The baby stopped moving at one point, but I ended up giving birth naturally at exactly 38 weeks," she revealed.
Olivia Hope - who has atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), a cardiac condition that requires open heart surgery - spent just one night in intensive care after being born, and was discharged two days later. "She's been on heart medicine since she was four-and-a-half weeks old which is keeping her stable, and we're waiting on a date for surgery in London," Laura explained.
"I'm scared of the operation but I've never given up hope. She's a wee miracle."
Laura admitted that the run-up to this Christmas has been a particularly testing time for her and David, their diary packed with hospital appointments for Olivia Hope in Belfast and Coleraine.
"She also sees a paediatrician and a dietitian, and gets weighed every two weeks, so it's a lot of travelling, but other than that she's doing well," said Laura.
"She smiled for the first time last Saturday. That was a truly wonderful moment."