This story originated from an everyday ring-in to the district office about a charity evening for IVF research. When I asked the caller, who turned out to be Martin’s sister, why she was organising the evening she told me about her 19-year-old brother who had terminal cancer and wanted to have a baby with his fiancee after his death. I made a direct approach to Martin and he and Susan agreed to speak to me.
The story below, the first of several I wrote with the co-operation of the family, was picked up by the national press, including The Sun, The Mirror and Daily Mail. It also received attention from the national broadcast media and women’s magazines. The couple were married but, sadly, Martin died in December 2003.
Exclusive by Paul McMillan, Newcastle Evening Chronicle, April 28, 2003
Dying teenager Martin Black and his bride-to-be have one wish – for his memory to live on through a test-tube baby.
The 19-year-old has battled with leukaemia since November 2000 but was left reeling after consultants told him a fortnight ago that his condition had become terminal, giving him just three months to live.
Determined to live life to the full, Martin, of Felling, Gateshead, and his girlfriend Susan Smith, also 19, of Donwell, Washington, have already planned their dream wedding at Gateshead Civic Centre.
But to complete their happiness, the pair plan to use sperm frozen before Martin’s initial stages of radiotherapy to have a child using IVF.
Sadly, he is resigned to the fact that even if the treatment, which carries only a 25 per cent chance of success per cycle, he will not be around to see his son or daughter.
Martin said: “It’s something we have always wanted, but with me going we want to have a baby now. The hospital took a sample of my sperm the very first time I fell ill.
“I decided to wait to have a baby back then because the condition was still curable. Now I don’t have the opportunity to live on, we want to go ahead with this baby using IVF.
“It means a lot to me. It will be a happy child and I feel I will have left my mark on the world. It’s going to be something which resembles me.”
Martin’s condition had been in remission for 18 months but in January this year he became ill again and doctors broke the tragic news.
He added: “It has been difficult living with leukaemia but I didn’t feel like I was under a stopwatch until I was told it was incurable. That was devastating. I realise I do not really have much time in my life so it’s just rush, rush.
“I have been told I only have a minimum of three months left. But we are just determined to make the most out of each day left. We’ve been busy making the wedding plans and it’s going to be spot on, a very happy day. It gives me something to look forward to.”
Normally, couples desperate for a baby are told to try for two years before beginning treatment.
Due to the circumstances surrounding the case, Martin and Susan have moved to the top of the IVF waiting list and have met with consultants in the reproductive medicine section at the Centre for Life in Newcastle.
Officials at the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust say Martin’s illness does not make the couple ineligible for treatment and they will receive funding to help with the process, which can cost up to £3,500 a cycle.
Martin and Susan are now in the counselling stages, where everyone involved checks whether they are making the right decision.
Susan added: “It’s been hard but I have always been there for him. It was horrible when the doctor’s told us Martin’s leukaemia was incurable. We were all crying our hearts out. Since then we have both been preparing for the wedding. It’s something we are determined to do.
“We have both decided on having a baby. They have asked us things like how the child would be supported with the situation we are in but it’s what we really want. I would not be saying that if it was not the case.”
Martin added: “The family will help support Susan and the baby. It’s going to take months and I know I am not going to be around to find out so we have to push on.”
Martin’s mother Gillian, 48, said: “When they told me he only had more or less three months I was devastated. I just felt as though my whole world had collapsed with the thought of losing him. I just thought, ‘I can’t lose him.’
“But with going around and having to tell everyone, I now feel so calm it’s frightening. I just hope I wake up one morning and it’s all a dream. We will go to hospital and they will say ‘I’m sorry, we were wrong.’
“I am looking forward to the wedding. Susan has been really good. She sat with Martin in hospital all the time he was in there and has been a big support. I am very grateful for that.
“I just hope the IVF works first time, I really do. It’s what they have wanted more or less since they met. It would be like the icing on the cake. The baby will be part of Martin and it will be loved like he has been.
“Martin just thinks of others all the time and way ahead of himself. I am really proud of him. He has never, ever complained.”