When Fusilier Shaun Stocker was blown up by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan, there seemed little chance that he would survive, let alone ever become a father.
The soldier, then aged 19, was blinded and lost both legs and his reproductive organs in the blast in Helmand province.
But now – thanks to the brilliance of pioneering British scientists – he is beaming with joy as the proud father of his first child, born on Christmas Day.
Shaun, now 25, was at the side of his fiancee, Persia Haghighi, throughout her 32-hour labour as she gave birth to 8lb 7oz Theo – a baby the couple have dubbed their ‘Christmas miracle’.
Theo, says Shaun, ‘is the son I never thought I’d be able to have’.
As a fusilier with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, the Royal Welsh Regiment, Shaun was at the centre of a dramatic race against time in April 2010 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) and suffered life-threatening injuries.
He was put into an induced coma to help his chances of survival and recovery, and it was then – in the first few hours after the blast – that doctors used a revolutionary new technique known as sperm salvage which meant Shaun could one day become a father
Although Shaun lost his testicles in the explosion, medics were able to take healthy sperm from a tube called the vas deferens, which is located deep enough within the body to protect against even the extensive injuries Shaun had suffered.
While he remained in the coma, the sperm was frozen so that he could one day have the opportunity of becoming a father.
Carried out by Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, the scientist who had developed the pioneering technique with colleagues at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, the procedure had to be completed no more than 48 hours after the explosion if the sperm were to survive.
Before Dr Kirkman-Brown and his team launched their work six years ago, soldiers who lost their testicles in explosions were unable to conceive children unless they had already frozen sperm before going to war.
Shaun had not done so, and after emerging from his coma and knowing nothing of what had taken place while he was unconscious, he feared he could never have children – until Dr Kirkman-Brown told him the good news.
Speaking last year, when The Mail on Sunday revealed that he would be one of the first servicemen to become a father after the revolutionary treatment, Shaun said: ‘There was nothing where my testicles were supposed to be. I was single then and I doubted any woman would want to be with me.
48 HOURS THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE
From the moment the Taliban bomb exploded under Shaun’ Stocker in 2010, it was a race against time to retrieve the sperm that would one day enable him to become a father.
Using a new procedure devised by British medics, sperm was removed from the vas deferens, a tube leading into the reproductive organs he had lost in the blast.
Vitally, the sperm had to be taken out and frozen within 48 hours of the explosion – and five years later it was used for successful IVF treatment, with baby Theo born on Christmas Day.
‘Not having any sperm in a sperm bank, I figured my chances of having children had gone.
‘But Dr Kirkman-Brown told me that while I had been in the coma he had operated on me, found some sperm and had frozen it. It gave me some hope
He and 24-year-old Persia, from Wrexham in North Wales, have given Theo the middle name of Jackson as a tribute to the man who made his ‘miracle’ possible.
Last night Shaun said: ‘I’ve spent the past five years recovering from my injuries and getting myself fixed up physically so I’d be able to look after a family. I feel like now I have everything a man could want.
‘I knew I’d love Theo, but I never knew I’d love him this much. I’ve never been happier. It’s amazing.’
Shaun has undergone more than 50 operations since he stepped on the IED. He spent time in Sydney in 2014 having surgery to fit prosthetic legs to the remaining bone in his thigh, before being discharged on Christmas Eve that year.
And following five operations, doctors have also been able to recover 30 per cent of the vision in his right eye.
While he was on the road to recovery, Shaun met Persia through mutual friends, and he proposed to her in September 2014.
The following month they travelled to Birmingham to speak to Dr Kirkman-Brown and make arrangements to begin IVF treatment.
Persia became pregnant with the first course of IVF and the couple were told the baby’s due date was Christmas Day.
‘We couldn’t believe it,’ Persia says. ‘To be able to have a baby at all after everything Shaun has been through felt like a miracle in itself, but to be told our baby was due on Christmas Day felt even more poignant.
‘In the run-up to Christmas, I don’t think either of us thought it would actually happen on Christmas Day itself because due dates are rarely precise.
‘We were at my mum’s on the morning of Christmas Eve and I felt the contractions start at about 9am.
‘I quietly told Shaun but said I didn’t want to tell my mum because I knew she would start fussing and I didn’t fancy that.’
Pictured: Fusilier Stocker before the explosion
Rather than tell her mother, Ramohna Stallard, that she was in the early stages of labour, Persia kept the pain to herself for almost two hours before she and Shaun left.
Shaun, who has been honoured by the Queen for his service in Afghanistan and who is now a motivational speaker, says: ‘By now Persia’s contractions were increasing in intensity so we thought we should get home, pick up an overnight bag and get to the hospital.’
But Persia’s labour lasted almost 32 hours, with Shaun at her side throughout, holding her hand and doing his best to keep her spirits up.
He was with her when she gave birth to Theo at 4.44pm on Christmas Day at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, and insisted on cutting the umbilical cord.
‘That was such a proud moment,’ Shaun says. ‘I’m so proud of Persia. She was brilliant.
‘Theo is the son I never thought I’d be able to have and it is all because of the brilliance of Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown. For me personally, Theo’s arrival marks the conclusion of my rehabilitation.’
He adds: ‘In the weeks ahead, we want to go to Birmingham to introduce Theo to Jackson because without him, Theo wouldn’t be here. If it hadn’t been for Jackson, there would have been no chance of me ever having kids.
‘I texted him to let him know when Persia went into labour and again when Theo was born. He texted back, saying, ‘Merry Christmas and congratulations.’ ‘
Persia and Shaun are getting married in June – but before that lies a challenge which Shaun is looking forward to: a 60-mile charity walk in March on behalf of Blind Veterans UK, which will be completed in eight-mile stages.
He has spent the past 12 months strengthening his body and has started a fundraising page on the Just Giving website that has already raised £15,000 towards his £50,000 target.
Meanwhile, he is spending time with Theo, whom he hopes will one day also serve his country in the Armed Forces.
Shaun says: ‘I’d be really proud to see him join the Forces but I know I’ll always be proud of him whatever he does.’
Shaun and Persia have received a ‘mini mountain’ of cards from well-wishers since Theo’s birth, as well as texts and phone calls from Shaun’s former Army colleagues.
The couple plan to undergo further IVF treatment in the years ahead, again using Shaun’s frozen sperm.
‘We’d like three more children at least,’ admits Persia.
‘Theo is such an easy baby. He loves his daddy holding him. If he’s crying, as soon as Shaun picks him up, he stops crying and settles straight way.
‘He’s sleeping well at night and he seems very content. He was born with a striking, full head of hair and beautiful blue eyes.
‘I want him to have brothers and sisters. As soon as he was born, I said to Shaun, ‘I want more.’
‘Four children would be a nice number if we’re lucky enough.’
Source: Daily Mail