'I owe my life to the NHS' says grateful mum Laura
In a year when we all said "thank you" to the NHS, Laura Roberts has more reason to be grateful than most.
Just 48 hours after giving birth to son Eric in September, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Today Laura, husband Luke and their young family are enjoying a happy Christmas because of the NHS "heroes" who saved her life.
"I owe them everything and I'll never be able to thank them enough," said the 34-year-old mum-of-two, now almost fully recovered and back home in Buckshaw Village near Chorley.
"I've genuinely been blown away by everyone I've come across in the NHS. What they do is amazing, especially in the middle of this pandemic.
"I just don't know how they do it - but thank heavens they do."
Laura, who works as a PR executive for Marketing Lancashire, believes giving birth to Eric put her in the right place at the right time for medics to spot she had a serious problem.
Even though the tumour - the size of a tennis ball - turned out to be benign, it could still have had a devastating effect had it not been discovered when it was.
In the final six weeks of her pregnancy there had been signs all was not well, but she dismissed them as "baby brain," where mums-to-be can suffer bouts of memory loss, poor concentration and absentmindedness.
"I never believed in baby brain," she said. "But I was feeling dizzy and losing my balance. I was taking a while to process things.
"I could tell I was struggling to think. I had to stop driving because I noticed I wasn't able to react very well when I was at the wheel. I said to my sister-in-law that I just didn't feel with it.
"My doctor sent me for a blood test, but that came back fine. My blood pressure was fine, in fact all the tests I had during pregnancy showed up nothing wrong. So I just thought it must be baby brain and I put it down to being pregnant."
But it was while she was in the maternity unit at the Royal Preston Hospital giving birth to Eric that staff noticed something was wrong.
"A midwife said to me 'you're just not right,'" she recalled. "She said she wouldn't let me out of hospital until they had got to the bottom of what it was. It was down to her that the neurology team got involved.
"Eric was in the cot next to me and every time he needed feeding, or his nappy changing, I had to call a midwife to come and do it.
"I couldn't walk, I couldn't get out of bed. The nursing staff were having to fully care for me. When I pressed the button for assistance I had no control over my thumb, so I couldn't stop pressing it.
"Eric was born on September 8, on the 9th I had an MRI scan and on the 10th I got the news I had a tumour.
"I can't help thinking that if I hadn't been in hospital having Eric I may not have known about the tumour until it was too late. So I'm calling him my little saviour."
Laura had to wait three weeks for surgery and spent seven hours on the operating table.
"It took longer than they anticipated," she added. "But after that it was all a bit of a blur.
"The day after the operation I had a seizure and lost the use of my right leg and left arm. That was probably the scariest moment. I was trapped inside my body. I could see and hear everything going on around me, but I couldn't communicate.
"The doctors, nurses, health care assistants, occupational health and physios were all brilliant. Luke wasn't allowed in for much of the time because of Covid restrictions, so had it not been for them I don't know how I would have got through it.
"I owe my life to them all, from start to finish. I count myself so lucky because, if there was ever a right time and place for something like this to happen it was right there and then, in hospital, surrounded by all those wonderful people."
Laura originally hails from Jersey, but decided to stay in the Preston area after spending time as a student at the University of Central Lancashire 15 years ago.
"Apart from having my daughter Niamh three years ago, this was only the second time I had encountered the NHS. I can't believe it's free.
"People moan about the NHS and I just think 'how can you moan when you get such good service and it doesn't cost a penny?' To me it's just amazing, from the porters to the top surgeons, it is flawless care.
"I feel lucky, not being in the situation that I'm in, but because it was an incredibly fortunate sequence of events for me. If it hadn't been spotted when it was I dread to think what could have happened - I could have been driving somewhere with the kids in the car and had an accident. It's not worth thinking about."
Considering the tumour was only removed less than three months ago, Laura has made a remarkable recovery. She is fully mobile and functioning well, although she says she is still "struggling a bit with my thought process and speech."
"I don't need any more treatment, which is great," she said. "I am just able to be a mum, wife, daughter and sister.
"My husband has been amazing through all this. I know I was the one going through it, but he has been so supportive with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby. My mum also came over from Jersey and she stayed on to help look after the children.
"Without both of them I don't know how I would have coped. I'm fortunate to have such an incredibly supportive family.
"The wait to find out if the tumour was cancerous was tough. I had to blot it out because I felt I needed to be strong for the family. I didn't want my little girl Niamh seeing her mummy crying.
"I remember saying to my mum and brother 'I don't want to die.' And they just said to stay positive. Everyone around me was being positive and I've got to say I didn't ever think I wasn't going to pull through.
"When I was eventually told I just completely broke down, it was such a relief. I knew then I could focus on recovering.
"Mine has been a happy ending and hopefully my story will just give that bit of hope to others who might be going through the same thing. There are happy endings.
"My message to the healthcare professionals who treated me would have to be: 'What you do is amazing.' I made sure I told them that throughout this whole thing.
"The ones who looked after me said they did the job because they loved what they did. It's not something that everyone could do, they are unique individuals.
"They are always smiling and full of empathy. For me that is so important. We all know what it can be like going into work when you're having an off-day, but they don't have that choice. They have to inspire patients to help them recover.
"They have to keep going, whatever is happening in their own lives. And they do. They're just super-human."