Jayne Soliman, 41, was announced brain dead in January last year after suffering a massive brain haemorrhage. But in a remarkable twist of fate doctors managed to keep her heart beating artificially, to deliver her baby daughter Aya, two days later. Celebrating her first birthday Aya’ s single father Mahmoud, 29 reflects on what has been the most devastating year of his life…
When Mahmoud Soliman gazes into his baby Aya’s eyes he has to fight back the tears. It’s been a year since his life was turned upside down and changed forever. It’s Aya’s first birthday and she’s spending it in Egypt with Mahmoud’s family as he frantically tries to finish his dissertation in Law in a bid to provide for their future. Aya is in Egypt with Mahmoud’s mum and he is going out there at the start of February once his dissertation is handed in. His mum is arranging a family party for her and is going to invite all of her friends over. The family called Aya their little miracle who has survived against the odds.
Every night Mahmoud says a prayer for his little girl who he describes as his ‘little Angel’. In a year that would see many people collapse Mahmoud has learnt how to be a single parent, to be courageous and to embrace the future. “Mummy’s looking down on you, Aya,’ he tells Aya every night. “She always will,”
It’s been a year since Mahmoud Soliman and his tragic wife Jayne, hit headlines around the world when Jayne gave birth to Aya Jayne Soliman two days after being declared brain dead. Mahmoud had to grieve for his dead wife and fight for Aya who was born prematurely, weighing just 2lb 11/2oz. Mahmoud met Jayne, a former British freestyle ice-skating champion, only four years ago in Abu Dhabi where he was working as telecom specialist. She had move there to work as a skating coach. “I knew the minute I saw her beautiful eyes that this was it. I instantly fell in love with her. She was just so bubbly and she loved me like I was the only person that mattered,” he says. Within months Mahmoud knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Jayne and jokingly asked if she’d consider marrying him.
“I remember she just said ‘Woah,’ but I only wanted her to consider it. A couple of weeks later when we were out for a meal she said: ‘Do you remember when you asked if I’d consider marrying you? Well, I would,'” he laughs. “She turned to me and said: ‘You never do anything like normal people and that’s why I love you.’ Then she said yes. Tears filled my eyes and I felt like the luckiest man alive. Jayne was just full of life, always so spontaneous.” he recalls.
Jayne converted to Islam for Mahmoud just before their marriage in 2007 and because Jayne was 12 years older than Mahmoud she wanted to quickly start trying for the family she’d always dreamed of. “It was something we both wanted so badly, so we were devastated when at ten weeks Jayne miscarried. But two months later Aya was conceived,” says Mahmoud. Worried she’d lose the baby again Jayne went to the doctors for an early scan at four weeks. “When we heard the heart beat and saw this tiny spec on the screen we both collapsed in tears,” he says.
As the pregnancy progressed their dreams started to materialise. “Every day we’d sing to Jayne’s bump and even started to call the baby Sparky as she’d always be moving around in the womb,” remembers Mahmoud. Jayne appeared to be in really good health throughout her pregnancy and even continued to coach at Bracknell ice rink, but tragedy was about to strike…
On January the 7th last year Jayne had returned home at 11am after coaching, complaining of a sore head. “I was off university for the Christmas holidays and was having a lie in. ‘I’ve got a headache, Jayne whispered to me as she craddled her head in her arms. Suddenly she vomited on the floor – ‘I’m okay,’ she whispered. “I dashed out of bed to get her a glass of water and went down to the kitchen. I suddenly heard a thud that shook the whole house. ‘Jayne’ I shouted, hoping to hear her laugh then I saw her,” he tearfully says.
Jayne had collapsed on the floor. “Moody Shmoody, don’t hurt your back,” she whispered – her affectionate nick-name for Mahmoud as he held her tight. Those were the last words she’d ever say as hours later she was declared brain dead. “My whole world fell apart,” says Mahmoud. Doctors told him that Jayne had had an aggressive tumour that had rapidly developed in her brain in just a few weeks that had ruptured. “I felt my heart break. How could my beautiful wife be gone?” says Mahmoud.
He sunk into a depression but the doctors had a revolutionary idea. They could try and save their baby by keeping Jayne on life support for 48 hours and help incubate Aya. “I’d gone from losing my beautiful wife to maybe losing everything – was there really hope that my baby might live? All I could do was pray,” recalls Mahmoud. Jayne would have done anything for her child and luckily her heart kept beating strongly over those turbulent two days. Incredibly Aya was delivered by Caesarean and was peacefully placed on Jayne’s shoulder.
Holding baby Aya in his arms Mahmoud vowed he’d do anything to keep this little baby alive, it was the only piece of Jayne he had left. “Those 48 hours were the most joyful and heartbreaking of my entire life and at the time I could barely function. But I knew that I had to stay strong – I was all Aya had,” says Mahmoud. Mahmoud tearfully turned off Jayne’s life support and tried to stay strong for their baby Aya. He watched helplessly as Aya battled for survival surrounded by tubes and intravenous drips. “I kept praying for her and sending her all my love, she was so small my wedding band fitted around her wrist,” says Mahmoud. Incredibly Aya got stronger each day and then the realisation that Mahmoud was going to be a single parent hit him.
“We’d dreamed of Aya together and now I was a broken man, grieving but feeling all this love for Aya,” he recalls. Aya was allowed home on the 27th of March, 2009 and Mahmoud recoiled from the spot light. “It was just me and my little miracle and we needed time to bond. It was hard work but Aya needed me more than ever,” he whispers. Mahmoud took Aya home to the house he’d shared with Jayne and opened up the box of photographs of their life together.
“I didn’t throw anything away as Aya can have everything when she’s older. Every picture, every piece of clothing. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I remembered Jayne, she would have been so happy if she’d been there,” he says. Mahmoud tried to fill the role of mother and father to Aya as he threw himself into nappy changes and bottle feeds. At the same time he was trying to cope with his own grief of losing the love of his life. He struggled with the late night feeds and bottle feeding Aya and at the same time feeling the emptiness of Jayne dying. But his mum was at his side and also being so practical with the feeds and changing Aya that it distracted him and stopped him dwelling on what had happened. “Aya and mum were my rock during that time,” he says. ” Mum would help me with Aya and also was there to comfort me and make sure I was coping. When we left the hospital I felt the pressure of playing mum and dad to Aya that I had to try and keep afloat. But I only have to look at my beautiful baby girl and I get some perspective and know that everything I am doing is for her to get the best future.” he says. Even things that most mum’s take for granted was a challenge for Mahmoud.
“Choosing what to dress Aya in or the right kind of nappies has been a problem. Also, I think that when a woman has a baby she instantly bonds with other mums. For me that has been extremely difficult. If it hadn’t been for my mum at the beginning of last year, I don’t know how I would have coped,” he says. “I just had to keep staring at Aya and seeing pieces of Jayne in her and it kept me going. This little girl has been brought into this, she chose us to be her parents and I needed her as much as she needed me,” he recalls. Mahmoud went back to university to study for his Masters in Law so that he could provide the best future for Aya.
“I didn’t feel strong enough to go back but all I had to do was look at this baby and know that I couldn’t give her anything less than the best – she’d been through so much and was so young.” As Aya developed over the past year Mahmoud has noticed that she has the same chin, cheeks, legs and eyes as Jayne had when she was the same age. She also loves her favourite cuddly toy Daffy Duck and watching Strictly Come Dancing. “Every new thing she does, whether it is laughing at Cbeebies, or crawling towards me when she’s playing on the floor, my heart just swells up and I realise how wonderful life can still be,” he says.
Mahmoud has kept a box of photos and mementos of things to show Aya when she’s older so that Jayne’s memory is kept alive. Items include newspaper cuttings, photos of Jayne when she was an ince-skating champion, clothes, her favourite cosmetics – even her favourite mug. He didn’t throw anything away so that Aya can have it all when she is older, and he believes that every picture, every piece of clothing will teach her something else about her mother. He tries to stay optimisitic about Aya’s first birthday but Mahmoud is finding it hard to not think of this time last year. His whole life has turned around but with Aya keeping him strong he knows that was the best present Jayne could ever have given him. “It’s going to be hard knowing this time last year my whole world was turned upside down, another year without the woman I called my soulmate. The feeling of loneliness that I have never been able to shake over the past year by losing Jayne. But, everytime I feel myself slide into a depression I just look at my courageous little girl and know that Jayne is not gone but is living through Aya. I know that she will be watching down on us and that makes me feel positive about our future. “Every time I look at Aya my heart is filled with happiness and sadness, but the longer she is at home, the easier it gets. No matter how much time passes I know that Jayne will always be there for her, for us, in spirit,” he says.