'I feared I'd never have children after life changing accident ... now I'm a dad-of-two'
Andrew Hartley's life changed completely in the blink of an eye as a teenager when a car accident left him paralysed from the chest down. Doctors warned Andrew his chances of becoming a father later in life were very slim - but the determined teaching assistant is now a proud dad-of-two. Andrew tells AASMA DAY his story and why his miracle children should inspire others to never give up hope of happiness after a life altering accident.
Sporty, active and training to be a mechanic, at the age of 17, Andrew Hartley was living life to the full and enjoying every moment.
However, fate dealt a cruel blow when Andrew was involved in a terrible car accident which left him with devastating injuries and completely changed life as he knew it.
Flashbacks of the accident on the A6 in Carnforth are all Andrew can remember but it had a permanent impact as it left him paralysed.
Andrew, now 37, who lives in Hest Bank, near Lancaster, remembers: “I was a passenger in the back of the car when it went round a corner and lost control going up an embankment and hitting a tree.
“I was flung from the car and went through the front windscreen and hit the tree.
“I can only remember flashbacks of the accident but I was airlifted to hospital and then transferred to the spinal injuries unit in Southport as I had broken my back.
“I can still remember and vividly picture the moment the doctors came and told me that my injuries were a lot worse than they’d initially thought and that I’d never walk again.”
Andrew, who was extremely sporty and loved playing football and was training to become a mechanic at a car dealership, admits he felt his life was over.
He explains: “To be told I was paralysed felt horrendous at the time and I did think my life was over.
“Being so young, I had been involved in a lot of sport and I had enjoyed an action packed life and thought this had all come to an end.
“All sorts of things went through my mind and I thought I’d never have a family, children or be able to work or live the life I wanted.
“I have always been quite an upbeat person but I did struggle at the beginning to adapt to this life changing thing that had happened to me.”
Andrew had to lie flat on his back for 12 weeks before beginning the long process of rehabilitation.
He was in hospital for seven months and credits his strong and supportive family for getting him through the difficult time and praises his mum and dad who went to see him in hospital every day.
Despite going through some dark days, as time went by, Andrew began to come to terms with his disability.
Even though he gave up his dreams of becoming a mechanic and playing football, Andrew realised there was still a lot he could do.
With a resolute determination, Andrew began a marketing job at a car dealership and started working towards qualifications.
After leaving hospital, he also joined a wheelchair basketball team and enjoyed meeting new people who were also disabled.
Andrew went on to become captain of the Lancaster Bulldogs wheelchair basketball team and also became chairman.
Learning to drive an adapted car gave Andrew greater independence and he realised being in a wheelchair didn’t mean he couldn’t pursue his dreams.
Andrew realised he really enjoyed working with children and he decided to re-train at Lancaster College and Preston College and studies to become a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and works at St Wilfred’s Primary School in Halton.
Andrew met his wife Libby eight years ago when he was playing pool at a pub where Libby was working while studying accountancy at Lancaster University.
The couple got married six years ago and began talking about having a family, but knew they would face hurdles.
Andrew explains: “When I had my accident, doctors had told me that my chances of having a family naturally were less than 10 per cent.
“Family has always been a big thing for me and I always knew I wanted to have children.
“After meeting Libby and getting married, we began trying for a baby, but it wasn’t happening so we were in the process of looking into IVF.”
However, to the couple’s joy, Libby became pregnant with their son William who is now three.
Andrew recalls: “We couldn’t believe it when we had William. It was everything I had ever dreamed of.
“After being told how low the chances were of having children naturally, I had prepared myself for the prospect that it might not happen and that we may have to look at different options.
“William is absolutely brilliant and is such a happy child who always wants to do things.”
Thrilled with William, Andrew and Libby longed for another child, but after a year of trying, they began looking at IVF treatment again.
However, just like with William, before they had started IVF treatment, Libby discovered she was pregnant naturally with their daughter Isabella.
Isabella made a dramatic arrival into the world by arriving unexpectedly 10 days early.
Libby, 30, an auditor, was taken unaware when her waters suddenly broke while they were out for a family meal at The Keys in Slyne, Lancaster.
Andrew explains: “We had gone out for a meal to celebrate my mum Janice’s birthday which was the following day.
“We had just finished our meals and were about to look at desserts when Libby’s waters suddenly broke and it was a mad dash to hospital.
“Isabella was born the following morning - on my mum’s birthday - and she weighed 7lbs.
“The Keys were really good and gave us champagne and flowers and a complimentary meal and they have told us that Isabella can have a free birthday meal every year.”
Baby Isabella is now eight weeks old and her parents are thrilled at the children they feared they might never have.
Andrew says: “We are so lucky to have both our children and they are so happy, good and content.
“In life, there are always ups and downs and people can be affected by life changing accidents or events.
“But I want to show people that you can become happy again and if you work hard at it, you can still achieve the things you want to.
“I could have gone the other way after my accident and felt sorry for myself and not wanted to get out of bed.
“But I wanted to be proud of myself and I now have a family, take part in sports, am working and have a normal life - I just happen to be in a wheelchair.
“I want my children to see that even though their dad is disabled, he lives a normal life and cares for them like any other father.I want them to be proud of what I do.
“I think that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to, no matter what happens in life.
“Libby has been fantastic. I don’t think she ever looked at the disability, just me as a person.
“Libby is kind, caring and very supporting of everything I do.
“With William and Isabella, I feel like my life is complete and we are a very strong and loving family.”