Three years on, Anna Louise Bates is still learning to cope with the deaths of Stuart and Fraser Bates as they crossed a road near Miskin Like mos
Three years on, Anna Louise Bates is still learning to cope with the deaths of Stuart and Fraser Bates as they crossed a road near Miskin
Like most young families at this time of year, the Bates family were looking forward to enjoying Christmas together.
But on the way back from a festive party, the lives of the happy family-of-four were destroyed in a split second.
A car ploughed into the group as they crossed a road near Miskin, killing dad Stuart and leaving son Fraser fighting for his life.
The seven-year-old put up a brave fight but died several hours later after being rushed to a specialist hospital in Bristol for emergency care. His injuries were just too severe.
Mum Anna Louise and daughter Elizabeth, who was just three at the time, were uninjured but have had to live with the pain of losing their beloved “boys” every day for the past three years.
For months after the dreadful crash, Anna Louise blanked out many of the horrific details of that December night.
Legally she wasn’t allowed to talk about it with other witnesses and she was determined to protect family and friends by shielding them from what had happened.
So she put all her energy and grief into helping others by starting a charity to help others because from her experience she felt “something needed to be done”.
Just over a week after Stuart and Fraser died, Believe was launched at a balloon release in memory of the boys.
The father and son had saved several lives when their organs were donated, and the aim was to raise more awareness by getting people of all ages talking about organ donation.
Anna Louise, who used to be a lawyer, wanted to be able to help other families through the traumatic process and encourage people to talk about the subject.
She said: “Educating children about organ donation from a young age is key in my opinion. I want to help other parents to have the conversation by creating a conversation starter.”
It has been a success with celebrity support, meeting with education officials to introduce awareness programmes in schools and a fund to help other families.
But all the time Anna Louise, who now lives in Thornhill, Cardiff, had suppressed what had happened to her family that night.
“It wasn’t until Bonfire Night the following year that I actually broke down,” explains Anna Louise. “It must have been all the bangs from the fireworks and all the noise, but it all hit me and I got diagnosed with PTSD. When I was a lawyer and people talked about it, I didn’t really think it was a real thing until it happened.”
Against taking the anti depressants doctors were keen to prescribe because she wanted to be there completely for daughter Elizabeth, she has found cognitive behavioural therapy as a way of helping her through the trauma.
It wasn’t easy. It meant having to relive that night every week as part of therapy.
“I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone because I was a witness in the trial and I didn’t speak to my family because, in my mind, they didn’t need to know the awful details,” explains Anna Louise.
“I moved what happened that night to a part of my brain that meant I couldn’t remember. But it did mean I became more worried about having flashbacks and what I was going to remember and when.
“There is a long wait for this sort of help but I was really lucky to be in a position where I could pay privately for treatment. It was really hard because it did mean that every week I had to go over what had happened.
It wasn’t just the impact of the car, it was the fact that the boys were lying so far apart in the road after the crash. I was feeling guilty because I thought I had been running between the two. Leaving one on their own to look after the other.
“I was feeling bad that when I was with Stuart, I was not with Fraser and then I was worried about Stu when I was with Fraser. I didn’t know what to do and I was tortured by the thought that I could have done something different to save one of them.
“The therapy has helped me understand that what actually happened was that I stayed with Fraser, was by his side, and shouted at the other people there who were with Stuart to help save my husband.
“Then we had to go to the hospital. I went to say goodbye to Stuart, and then had to go straight to be with Fraser.
“I said I can’t give up on my son. I just remember sitting with Fraser in intensive care and just talking to him about football.
“Every time I said ‘you scored’ his blood pressure would go up. It was like he was still with us. I told them, I am not letting you give up on him.
“I had to fight for him to be taken to Bristol because I felt there was still some reaction there. But on the way to Bristol we had to travel down the same road where the crash had just happened.
“It was not just one traumatic event that night, it was a whole series of traumatic events.”
At the hospital in Bristol, doctors confirmed the worst. There was nothing more they could do for the little boy. But Anna Louise knew that both Stuart and Fraser would want to have their organs donated.
“I knew because Stuart told me,” she says. “It wasn’t so much that we had had that conversation, before the crash he had told me it is what he wanted. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be such an involved process.
“The form for Fraser took nearly two hours to fill in, with so many questions. Questions I never wanted to ever be answering.”
Then, Fraser didn’t have the transplant operation until the day after the accident.
“I left the hospital on Sunday night, but then I was worried that I should have stayed with him,” says Anna Louise.
“Leaving him at the hospital with his heart still beating was the hardest thing I had to do. I came home and there were so many people there for me, I have the most amazing family, but I was just there in the middle of it all watching the phone and waiting for it to ring to tell me that Fraser had had the operation.
“Then, I got a phone call at 8pm the next day to tell me that the operation had been a success.”
What Anna Louise didn’t know then was that it was an extremely detailed operation that involved lots of different teams of doctors and nurses from different hospitals.
Donors’ families are not told who the recipients are to start with – it is up to them and their families to get in touch. It has to be done in writing and through the NHS Blood and Transplant department.
At first, Anna Louise was quite angry when she hadn’t heard from anyone after six months.
“I thought it was quite rude that they hadn’t been in touch to say thank you,” she says. “Then a year went by, and still nothing and I realised that it must be one of the most difficult letter to ever have to write. A letter to a parent who has lost a child.”
Three years on and Anna Louise has now heard from some of the families that Fraser helped, and keeps in touch with the little boy who received his heart.
“I haven’t met them in person, but we do keep in touch and they send me pictures,” she explains nervously. “We haven’t met yet.”