Sunderland woman given only days to live as baby gets married on 30th birthday

A Pennywell woman, who doctors expected would only live to be days old, tied the knot on her 30th birthday – and wouldn’t let the Covid pandemic cancel her wedding a second time.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 7:00 am

Melissa Gibson-Hepple was born 14 weeks premature on July 31, 1990 – weighing 1lb 15oz – and her doting parents were told her tiny organs were under developed and that she wasn’t expected to live more than a few days.

But the Pennywell lass battled on – undergoing dozens of operations, living with an ostomy bag and battling with anorexia – and continued to mark milestones her parents Eileen Mitchell, 61, and Ian Gibson, 58, never thought she would reach.

Melissa and groom Andrew Hepple were forced to cancel their wedding in 2018 when she fell seriously ill and had rescheduled to tie the knot on July 31, 2020 – on Melissa’s 30th birthday.

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Melissa Gibson-Hepple and her husband Andrew on their wedding day

But when the country was plunged into lockdown, Melissa feared her hopes would be shattered again.

When Melissa was born, her stomach and bowel was underdeveloped and within days doctors discovered she had necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) and they had to operate immediately – her bowel was put outside of her body and she had an ostomy bag.

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When she was one, the surgery was reversed but Melissa continued to face serious problems and spent months in hospital at a time throughout her childhood.

Melissa Gibson at home with Mum Eileen - picture taken in November 1990

"At one stage I was that bad they said I had to go on the list for a bowel transplant,” said the 30-year-old.

"But they changed their minds and said I was going to get an ostomy bag for life. I broke down in tears.”

Seven years ago, Melissa had an ileostomy.

Growing up she feared she’d never find love but 11 years ago she met Andrew.

Melissa and Andrew with her brother David Mitchell, mum Eileen Mitchell and dad Ian Gibson

On Christmas Day, 2015, Andrew asked the very important question and the loving couple got started on planning the wedding for June 2018.

But as the wedding grew closer, Melissa found herself seriously ill in hospital and their big day had to be cancelled.

“Unfortunately my health took a bad turn and there was no way I could have made it down the aisle – I could have died,” said Melissa.

"I was getting these pains 24/7, they started getting worse and I was being sick and couldn’t keep anything down.”

Andrew and Melissa with Judith Merry and best man Lawrence Burlison, who tragically died in September 2020

Eventually the pain became too much and she was rushed to hospital and when doctors couldn’t find the source of the pain she was transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle.

Doctors discovered a blockage in her bowel as well as severe swelling and she need another operation.

Thankfully, Melissa recovered and was able to start planning the wedding again – and then the pandemic hit.

"When Covid hit we started to worry that it wasn’t going to happen again but we were able to go ahead with six guests,” said Melissa.

"It was sad that everyone couldn’t be there and my family were worried about me because I wasn’t well again not long before.

"But I’d told them, I’m getting down the aisle even if I have to crawl!

"After everything I’ve been through in my life, I wasn’t suppose to live more than a few days and to get married on my 30th birthday – it was amazing.”

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