By Laura Lynott @
Irish footballer Colin Doyle’s wife, has told for the first time how she phoned her husband to say “I love you” for what she planned to be the final time – as she tried to take her life after the couple’s son was struck down with meningitis.
Becky Doyle, 38, who is married to Colin, an Ireland international and former Birmingham City goalkeeper – who’s just been transferred from Blackpool FC to Bradford City – is speaking out to help other women going through depression.
A mother to Harry, 13, Ava, 7, and Liam, 6, Becky was crushed when her youngest child Liam was struck down with meningitis when he was just 7-weeks-old, in July 2010. It was to be the first of two times the child would be hit by the life-threatening condition.
“Harry was 8 at the time and I remember him shouting ‘Mum, come here.’ And I thought ‘What is he shouting at, he’ll wake his sister up.’
“I went in where he was with Liam, and saw Liam was having the first of what would be many seizures.”
Harry went on to win a Mirror Pride of Britain award for his bravery earlier this year – but in the aftermath of Liam’s illness Becky struggled as her son was left suffering seizures, epilepsy, and learning difficulties.
Becky described how she drove to the hospital and realised as she carried her young son in to the A&E that he wasn’t moving, his lips had gone blue and his face had been drained of colour.
“Liam was grey. I just held him up and said ‘my son,’ and the receptionist pressed an alarm bell. Doctors came running towards us and took Liam from me.”
Becky, who recently celebrated a renewal of her wedding vows to Colin, 31, in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, watched in horror as doctors battled to save Liam who was going in to seizures, barely clinging to life.
“I tried to phone Colin. He was in China for a Birmingham City pre-season tour. I told him Liam was in hospital, that the doctors said it was meningitis and he just said ‘Oh God.’
“The doctors told me Colin had to come home, that the next few days were critical. I told Colin Liam might not make it. My husband had to make that journey across the world not knowing if his little boy would be alive or dead when he got to England. It was very just horrific.
“As soon as he got off the plane, Colin just fell to the floor when he saw how sick Liam was.”
For the first time during their relationship, Becky, saw Colin, from Co Cork, cry.
Seeing their son so ill was like “grieving,” she said. “He was so little, we just knew it was bad and there was nothing we could do.”
Liam went on to suffer pneumococcal septicaemia, a deadly form of meningitis in 2014. He was diagnosed with epilepsy in July 2012, and ataxia (meaning he suffers from a constant body tremor) shortly afterwards.
Months after her son became ill with meningitis for the first time as a baby; Becky raised money for a meningitis charity, by walking the Great Wall of China with other footballer’s wives.
“I was trying to make peace with what had happened – hoping if I went back to the spot where Colin was when Liam became sick, I could somehow make it right – but when I was there I just burst out crying because I knew I couldn’t.
“I knew Liam was not going to be well again. And the pain never goes away.”
Soon after, Becky returned home and found she was feeling increasingly down as she watched her son continue to have seizures.
She had also put on weight due to snacking from hospital vending machines – because Liam was returning for treatment so often.
“I tried to take my life,” Becky said, admitting openly how depressed she had become as she watched her son’s health suffer.
“I was driving past a church – I pulled over and went over to ask for the vicar. A man came to the door and said the vicar wasn’t in.
“I felt like I had been abandoned by God when I really needed him – and I am not even a religious person. I just felt at that moment I needed God.
“I sat in my car and phoned Colin. I told my husband ‘I hate every day. I just don’t want to be here anymore – I’m more scared of living than dying.’
“I told Colin: ‘I’m going now. I love you.’ Colin kept phoning me but I didn’t answer – I was convinced this was the best thing to do.”
The man she had spoken to at the church, sensed something was wrong and went to look outside and saw Becky as she attempted to take her life. He called the emergency services who rushed to the scene.
“A police man spoke softly to me, when they found me,” Becky said. “He told me that it was all going to get better. I didn’t believe him but I was at my lowest and I couldn’t go any further down.”
For the next four years Becky was on anti-depressants and she went from having a svelte size 8 figure to a 12/14.
Colin had vowed to stay home as much as he could to help out with Liam – a move she admits no doubt has meant his “career took a back seat.”
But Birmingham City were very supportive, as were Blackpool and though the father loves his profession – he realised his son had to come first. He missed a great deal of games due to Liam’s poor health, Becky said.
With inspiration from son Harry, the family set up the Liam Smiles charity – a name penned after Harry. Harry had told his mother that no matter how ill Liam was “he always smiles.”
The family’s charity supports Meningitis Now – the UK’s biggest meningitis charity. And Becky has now turned her life round, coming off antidepressants and going back to a healthy size 8.
She had been 10 stone while she was feeling at her worst but now the mother-of-three is just over 7 stone.
“I decided one day I was going to start running, to raise money for the charity – that I’d do the London Marathon. I started to run little-by-little, from one lamppost to the next and then walking.
“The neighbours were great. They were out encouraging me on, waving and cheering, which meant that I had to carry on training.”
But despite her own personal fight back to recovery, the mother felt it was important to be “open and honest,” about having felt suicidal and depressed after Liam became ill.
“I can’t be who I am if I am not honest,” Becky said. “I have to be open and honest about my journey to continue on this road – and I know so many people suffer depression and suicidal thoughts and I want to let them know there is a way back.
“I know it is particularly hard on the families of children who are sick. I want to give them hope. It is better to speak about how you are feeling than bottle it up.”
Becky ran the London Marathon in April with a team of runners including The Apprentice semi-finalist Gary Poulton and current Birmingham City FC manager Gary Rowett.
She runs every day and up to an impressive 25 miles some days.
She has been likened to Hollywood movie favourite Forrest Gump – due to the fact one day she started running and didn’t stop, just like the character played by Tom Hanks.
“I run because that is my place to think, to let it all out – that is where I get rid of all my pain, my anger and when I come home afterwards, I am just fine. I’m relaxed,” she said.
“I was on anti-depressants for four years and I couldn’t see a way forward but I’m off them now because running seems to give me all I need.
“Running is like a high – it releases endorphins and it makes you feel really, really good. It’s addictive and in the start, the weight was dropping off me.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been and I’m much happier, which is so important for the children and especially Liam.”
Colin is signed for Bradford for two years and his wife and children have now make the move to Yorkshire to be nearer to him to help his career progress.
“We had stayed in Birmingham the whole time even after Colin transferred to Blackpool – because this was home for us,” Becky said.
“The kids were happy in school and I was happy in Birmingham. I’m a home bird and I love being near family. I live near my mum and I am always popping round for a cup of tea and a chat. I love her to bits. I’m also very close to my neighbour – so it was very hard to leave here.
“But we have to support Colin in his new job as a family because he supported us for so long. He was so good helping out with Liam and he just shouldered it all so well. He is very strong – and now it’s time we help him out because football is so important to him.”
Becky doesn’t live the champagne lifestyle of a WAG and said: “I stay in and I don’t drink. My only guilty pleasure is chocolate and I can still eat that by just going for a run.”
She also loves Ireland – and visits Cork to see Liam’s grandparents. “Every time I come back to Cork I go to the same restaurant, I eat the same meal because I love it – and I always have Club Orange and Taytos, because I absolutely love them.
“I love Ireland and I get back as much as I can and often without Colin because he’s working. I’m coming to Dublin soon for a couple of days with friends and I can’t wait.”
As for Liam – Becky is hopeful that one day soon doctors might find the answer to why his health is still suffering.
“I think his immune system has been weakened by meningitis. But no matter what happens, how sick he is, it’s true – Liam always does smile his way through it.
“He is like a little solider and he won’t give up fighting.”
Colin previously played in the Championship with Birmingham City for 12 years and his one and only appearance for the Boys in Green came in 2007 against Ecuador.
If you’d like to help support Becky with her charity work, log on to Liam Smiles and read up on how you can help.