Sophie May, 34, a social worker from Nottinghamshire, lives with husband Martin, 35, and their two daughters Bella Grace, eight and Daisy, four. Here she reflects on how meeting David and Victoria Beckham gave her the lifeline she needed when she was in deep despair.
Not long ago I found some old diaries from my teenage years. As I leafed through the pages, painful memories flooded back of a time when I was severely depressed and felt life was no longer worth living.
Headaches, stomach and back aches were taking their toll on my young body. The psychological pain of spending so much time in hospital and feeling that I had little to live for anymore was devastating. Over and over I had written words like: ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ or ‘I want to die’ and I had even suggested ways in which to kill myself. I was heartbroken to read it and I wanted to reach out to that young 17-year-old Sophie and tell her everything was going to be alright in the end.
Life-threatening asthma attacks
I was born with a rare type of condition that’s sometimes called Brittle Asthma and affects one in 2,000 people with asthma. It can cause sudden, severe asthma attacks that occur out of the blue and can be difficult to control even with high doses of steroids. These asthma attacks can be life-threatening. In 2018, over 1,400 adults and children died from asthma in the UK.
The psychological pain of spending so much time in hospital was devastating. Over and over I had written words like: ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’
As a young child, it didn’t affect me too badly apart from a couple of hospital admissions but when I turned 13, I started to go downhill. I had a particularly bad attack and was taken to hospital where I actually ‘died’ for a few minutes. Doctors resuscitated me and put me into an induced coma for five days to let my body recover. It was absolutely terrifying for my mum, Karen who was at the hospital at the time. She was scared she was going to lose me.
Another severe attack happened not long afterwards and again I had to be resuscitated and was put into an induced coma, this time for a week. My health began to get much worse from that point onwards. I was put onto high doses of steroids but these have many side effects. I gained lots of weight, my mood changes were up and down and within a year I was in a wheelchair.
Although I could attend school at times, it wasn’t much fun. I had to do all my work in the reception area as I couldn’t cope with the stairs to the classroom and I couldn’t mix with many people for fear of infection. I had some friends – including my now husband Martin who I met when I was 14 – who supported me but it was by no means a ‘normal’ childhood.
When I was 16, my mum received a phone call from the doctor with the worst possible news. "I’m really sorry but there’s nothing more we can do for Sophie," he said. My mum asked if I was dying and the doctor said yes, it looked that way. My body’s systems would start shutting down and although they didn’t know how long it would take, my time was limited.
My mum asked if I was dying and the doctor said yes, it looked that way.
Naturally, Mum was distraught, as were my father Ross and my older brother Jamie. But they decided to keep the news a secret from me for understandable reasons. Instead, they were determined to make my last years – or months – the most memorable and fun they could.
My ultimate wish
It was Mum who said to me one day: "If you could do anything or meet anyone who would it be?" I knew straightaway. I was a huge football fan as well as a Spice Girls fan so David and Victoria Beckham were my heroes. Having been so ill, I’d been impressed by how much charity work David seemed to be doing. And let’s face it, he isn’t bad to look at either!
I thought no more about the conversation but behind the scenes mum had spoken to When You Wish Upon A Star, a charity set up to help children with terminal illnesses fulfil a dream. Within weeks, I had received a surprise phone call asking me if I’d like to fly to Madrid to meet my hero.
I was in shock. In the weeks before this phonecall, I’d had a mental breakdown due to the stress of my health and I was in the depths of despair. It was at this point that I’d been writing about killing myself in my diary. The only thing that had stopped me from going through with it was the heartbreak it would cause to my family.
But suddenly I had something to look forward to. In the days and weeks leading up to the visit, my mood began to shift. I started smiling more, talking more, feeling more positive about life, even though at the time I had no idea how desperate things really were.
We had photographs taken with David Beckham and we chatted about his time in Madrid, football and what we liked to do – I remember him telling me he was a big fan of ‘chick flicks’!
Meeting David Beckham
Mum and I flew out to Madrid when I was 17 with the founder of the charity Barbara White, as well as another family. I was so excited to meet the Beckhams but when we arrived at the airport the airline had lost my wheelchair. But it wasn’t a problem. Barbara rang David’s team who organised for another wheelchair straight away. It was the first of many kind things they would do for us during our stay.
But the first time we actually met him was almost by accident. We were waiting outside his office and I noticed a car trying to get into the driveway but my mum was blocking its path. "Mum, get out of the way!" I said, then as the car drove past we realised David was driving it and he smiled and waved.
I started crying! I was so overwhelmed. Moments later we were taken into his office and he came over to say hello, shake our hands and introduce himself properly. I was overawed. He was so kind and seemed genuinely interested in us and our stories. We had photographs taken and chatted about his time in Madrid, football and what we liked to do – I remember him telling me he was a big fan of ‘chick flicks’!
Victoria Beckham was so down-to-earth, we chatted about clothes, the Spice Girls and David’s football.
Chatting to Victoria Beckham and her mum
But the surprise wasn’t over yet. He asked me if I’d like to see him play and so a car was arranged to take Mum and I to go to the Bernabeu stadium where we were escorted to a private suite. Who should be there but Victoria Beckham and her mum Jackie! Again, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe I was in the same room. Victoria was so down-to-earth, we chatted about clothes and the Spice Girls and David’s football.
For four days we were treated like royalty. I’d only been abroad twice before and so even flying out to Spain, staying in a gorgeous hotel and going out for meals with my mum felt so special. I felt more alive than I had done for a very long time.
When we arrived home I felt so mentally strong and ready for anything. Gone were the feelings of suicidal despair. I wanted to live. I wanted a future.
It just so happened that a new drug called Xolair was being trialled for severe asthmatics. Mum had campaigned for ages to get funding for it and suddenly I was accepted for the trial. It felt like a new start for me. We had no idea if it would help but within a couple of months, I found I didn’t need as many steroids and began to lose some weight. Within two years, I no longer needed my wheelchair. It was incredible. I was going to live.
That visit to Spain was the turning point for me in my illness. It gave me the mental push I needed to keep going with treatment, to fight for a future.
A new lease of life
Seventeen years later, I look back on that visit to Spain as the turning point for me in my illness. It gave me the mental push I needed to keep going with treatment, to fight for a future. Once I started taking the new drug I began to plan ahead. I went to Nottingham University to study Social Work, Martin and I married in 2012 and our daughters followed two years and seven years later.
Today I’m still taking the Xolair and will be on it for life but I’m pretty healthy. My body has kicked itself back into shape and recently I’ve even been able to come off steroids completely, something I’ve been on for almost two decades.
Giving hope to other families
I’m sharing my story because When You Wish Upon A Star is such a special charity to me and I want other families to know about it and support it. Not only do they organise celebrity meet-ups like with the Beckhams or Ant and Dec, but trips to Disneyland or even just afternoon teas or Princess Parties.
Of course, not all of the families they help are as lucky as ours and some children do not make it, which is tragic. But so many parents who have lost their little ones have spoken to me about how special those memories created by the charity have helped them through their grief. To be able to smile, laugh and forget about their illness, even just for a few brief hours is magical.
See Whenyouwishuponastar.org.uk for more details.