Family mark their miracle son's birthday

By Jonathan BarnesFOOTBALLER Neil Gregory's world fell apart a year ago when the lives of his wife Louise and new-born son Joe were plunged into danger.

By Jonathan Barnes

FOOTBALLER Neil Gregory's world fell apart a year ago when the lives of his wife Louise and new-born son Joe were plunged into danger.

His wife developed the potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy and gave birth to their second child seven weeks premature.

Tiny Joe fought for life in Ipswich Hospital's special care baby unit - where he stayed for 80 days - as his mother battled against her condition.

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For Mr Gregory, a former Ipswich Town and Colchester United striker, it was like history repeating itself as his wife suffered similar troubles giving birth to their first son, Alex, who arrived 10 weeks early almost four years ago.

But today, the Gregory family are counting their blessings as Joe celebrates his first birthday with mother and baby in fine form.

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“He's doing very well indeed,” said Mr Gregory, 30. “When he first came home last July he had to go for check-ups once a month, but he's doing so well now he only needs to go every two months.

“He has had a few problems with his lungs because of the ventilator he was on, but there is no lasting damage and he's in good health. We're having a birthday party for him on Sunday.”

Mrs Gregory, who was unable to see Joe for four days after his birth because of her illness, also made a full recovery - but the couple have been told by doctors it would be too dangerous to have another child.

There is believed to be only a 5% to 10% chance of pre-eclampsia striking the same person twice, and Mrs Gregory, 30, was monitored closely during her pregnancy.

But the condition reached dangerous levels and Mrs Gregory, who had been in and out of hospital, elected to give birth at 34 weeks. In fact, Joe arrived four days earlier than that, weighing in at just 3lb 8oz.

Her problems did not end with the birth as Mrs Gregory began to haemorrhage and her devastated husband kept a vigil at both his wife and son's bedside.

“It was touch and go for a while when Joe was born, but we're very lucky to have come through it and have two healthy children,” said Mr Gregory.

His wife has returned to work as an office manager at radio station SGRfm, while Mr Gregory stays at home to look after the children and plays part-time for non-league side Canvey Island.

He quit professional football after Alex was born weighing just 2lb 7oz in 1999, at which time he was on loan from Colchester United to U.S. side Boston Bulldogs.

Their first son spent 60 days on a ventilator, but battled to full health and will be four years old in August.

The couple, who still live in Ipswich, decided Mrs Gregory had greater career prospects to go back to work, and the footballer relished his new role as a house husband.

His career change hit national headlines last year when his club manager called Mr Gregory a “professional babysitter” during the club's FA Cup giant-killing run.

But the striker, who has two years of his contract at Canvey Island to run, laughs off the jibes and said he had no plans to change his lifestyle.

“It's a bit more difficult with the two boys, but it's very enjoyable most of the time. People tell me I'm an old hand at it now,” he said.

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