SHE is only 27 but has been battling heart disease since she was just a teenager.
Gemma Lawrence tells reporter Sally Burton how she battled against the odds to become a mum and how she is now striving to help a heart charity.
YOUNG mum Gemma Lawrence stared death in the face at the age of 15 - and again when she fell pregnant at 21.
With severe heart disease, life is still not easy for Gemma from Swinton, but she bravely continues to campaign to help others.
And she is backing the British Heart Foundation’s new Rock Up In Red campaign, urging workers across South Yorkshire to dress in red for a day to raise cash for the charity. A former top sportswoman and Rotherham ‘Young Person of the Year’, Gemma has won awards for fundraising since being diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy 12 years ago. It means the main pumping chambers of the heart do not work properly.
She was diagnosed only after a bad cold refused to budge and she had difficulty breathing.
Her heart was found to be so weak that she was told she may have only days left, and was listed for a heart transplant.
But medication proved successful and Gemma was removed from the transplant list. Her pregnancy at 21 was the ultimate bittersweet news - placing severe strain on her heart and putting her own life in acute danger. It was an “absolute shock” she admitted.
“The doctors had warned me my life would be endangered by pregnancy. I feared they would force me to abort, but I said what I wanted and from then on I was supported in every way.”
The former trainee journalist, who now works as a mobile beauty therapist, claims she feels she is alive because of five-year old daughter Melody, who is now a pupil at Brookfield Primary School, Swinton.
“Having Melody gave me a reason to live,” said Gemma, who describes her little daughter as “awesome, funny and witty”. Melody already has her future mapped out as a drummer and make-up artist, but she too must undergo tests in case defective genes have passed to her and could cause her future health problems.
Melody was born at just 31 weeks by caesarean section, when Gemma’s heart showed signs of failure.
“I loved being pregnant but it was scary,” said Gemma. “I had difficulties, and a huge blood loss at 16 weeks when I thought I’d lost Melody. I was terrified before my section. I’d been ill and the birth couldn’t be put off. They put me to sleep and I didn’t know if I would wake.
“I made my partner Jamie promise to tell my baby how much I loved her if I didn’t make it.”
Melody was 3lbs 14oz when she entered the world, and relied on a ventilator to breathe. Despite her severe pain following the birth, as she had limited morphine only, Gemma said: “I was elated that Melody was okay and I was there for her. It seemed like we were battling together.”
It was a month before the two could be home in Crossland Street, and every day since then has been special, said Gemma.
She added: “There are things I still can’t do and I get tired, but in every other way I live normally. I had the norovirus bug recently and was very ill. My mum came and slept here to help with Melody. I know I may be back on the transplant list in the future, but for now we take each day as it comes.”
Gemma’s fundraising exploits included GemFest, when eight bands played for free at a Mexborough civic concert for her 21st birthday.
Some £853 was raised for the BHF and Action for Children.
National Heart Month is on the first Friday of February, and Gemma and the BHF are asking people to hold a Rock Up In Red event and rally colleagues, friends and family to pay £2 and wear red.
“The BHF does fantastic work, helping people, supplying equipment and funding research,” said Gemma.
To order a free Rock Up In Red Fundraising Kit, download a pack at ‘BHF Rock up in Red’ or call 0300 330 0645.