She was the baby girl who wasn’t meant to survive.
But miracle child Melissa Gibson has grown up to defy the odds and is now looking forward to her big wedding day.
When Melissa Gibson was born 14 weeks premature on July 31, 1990 and weighing little more than a bag of sugar, her mum Eileen Mitchell, now 54, and dad Ian Gibson, now aged 50, were told their tiny daughter’s organs were so underdeveloped that she wasn’t expected to live.
The Pennywell lass underwent dozens of operations, had an ostomy bag until her early twenties, and has battled anorexia and depression.
Now 27, she is excitedly planning her wedding with fiancé Andrew Hepple, 25.
The couple have been together seven years after meeting through a mutual friend.
I am the miracle premature baby who was meant to dieMelissa Gibson
Andrew popped the question on Christmas Day, 2015, and the pair will tie the knot on June 11 next year.
Melissa, now living in Oxclose, Washington, said: “I am the miracle premature baby who was meant to die.
“I was born 14 weeks early and my stomach and bowel hadn’t had time to develop properly.
“I was only 1.15lb, but at first they thought I was fine.
“Then they found out I had necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) and cut me open the next day.
“My bowel was put on the outside of my body and I had an ostomy bag.”
After the surgery Melissa contracted septicaemia and nearly died.
When she was six, doctors decided to reverse the operation but she suffered a number of blockages to her bowel along with excruciating pain.
Melissa was in hospital for months at a time, missing Christmases and birthdays.
“When I was 10 I was getting severe pain,” Melissa said. “I was that bad they transferred me straight to the RVI, then to Birmingham Children’s Hospital for a bowel transplant.
“But they chose another option and said I would have the bag back for the rest of my life.”
However, Melissa was still in pain and she thought that if she stopped eating it would help.
She added: “I suffered from anorexia as a teenager after I got it into my head that if I didn’t eat, I wouldn’t have to go to the toilet, because that was agony.”
Melissa would hide food at home and at school, and at 13, she weighed just three-and-a-half stone,
She said: “I got really bad and I collapsed and was taken to hospital by ambulance.
“They took one look at me and decided I had to be tube fed.
“I was on a machine all the time. I started to see a counsellor and gradually got myself better.”
Melissa missed a lot of school and her GCSEs suffered as a result.
She enrolled on college courses, but ended up dropping out due to her health and fell into depression.
“I was really bad,” she said.
“I stayed in the house - in my bedroom - for nine months.
“I didn’t want to eat. I turned my phone off and put it in a drawer. I didn’t want to wash or change my clothes. I didn’t care about my appearance.”
However, Melissa was assigned a psychiatric nurse and started seeing friends again.
That’s how she met Andrew, who works at Parseq.
“A few months down the line we were hanging out every day,” she said.
“I really liked him, but I kept it quiet because I didn’t think anyone would want to go out with me because of all the problems I had.
“Then one of my friends blabbed to him and he went ‘yes - I really like her too’.
“We’ve been together seven years now and on Christmas Day, 2015, he gave me a ring box.
“I thought it was just a daft joke, but I opened it and it was a ring.
“He said ‘I really love you and I want you to be my wife’ and I said ‘yes - okay’.”
The pair will marry at Newcastle Civic Centre followed by a reception at the Slug & Lettuce, on June 11, next year.
Although Melissa faces a lifetime of medical procedures and will eventually need a bowel transplant, she now has something to look forward to.
“At first I wasn’t excited as you would be expecting,” she said. “But now it’s getting nearer and I’ve found my dress, I’m really excited.
“Planning the wedding has helped my mental state and given me a focus. You have to have a goal.
“I was the baby who wasn’t meant to survive and look where I am now.”