Anguish as girlfriend dies months after baby

Dean Brett with Gemma Porteous and the couple's daughter, Mia. Picture: contributed
Dean Brett with Gemma Porteous and the couple's daughter, Mia. Picture: contributed
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A FOOTBALLER whose girlfriend died of cancer just months after losing one of their baby twins has paid a moving tribute to her as “My Hero”.

Cowdenbeath defender Dean Brett has been left devastated by the death of Gemma Porteous, 22, his partner of six years.

Dean, 22, originally from Edinburgh but living in Tranent, broke the news of the tragedy on Twitter, and added: “Thanks for everything Gemma, RIP” along with a heart symbol and the words “My Hero”.

Gemma, from Musselburgh, was diagnosed with cancer of the spine just weeks after the death of four-week-old Mollie – who was born prematurely with sister Mia.

The young mum was admitted to Edinburgh’s Western General for an operation in September and had been in hospital ever since, managing day trips out of the ward and finishing a round of chemotherapy at the start of December.

She was able to spend Mia’s first Christmas and New Year at home and the family were optimistic about the year ahead. But her condition worsened last week, and she died in hospital.

Gemma and Dean had been trying to overcome their devastation at Mollie’s death when the shock diagnosis last September sent their world spinning once again. The new mum, just 22 years old, had been struggling with a sore back, and what she first dismissed as a minor ailment was soon diagnosed as a rare spinal tumour.

She went into the Western General for an operation in September – and remained there until Mia’s first Christmas, when she was allowed to go home to Tranent and spend delightful hours marking the festivities with her family.

Indeed, Gemma and Dean spent her brief homecomings on Christmas Day and Hogmanay plotting a fresh start in the new year ahead of them.

But, three weeks on from that day which was full of hope and promise, Dean, also just 22, is coming to terms with his girlfriend’s death after Gemma passed away on Tuesday.

Cowdenbeath fans will pay tribute during their match with Rangers on Saturday by wearing pink and holding a minute’s applause in the 14th minute – the shirt number Dean wears.

Speaking to the Evening News today, the defender said he was comforted by treasured memories of his daughter’s first Christmas and vital time the young family managed to spend together last week, just days before Gemma died.

“She got me in beside her and she kissed Mia, and she told me she loved me, Mia and Mollie,” Dean said.

“That was when I accepted it and tried to get on with it. She never really knew she was going to pass – all I told her was that she was really tired.

“She got seven months with Mia and those two days were just a bonus. She was just 
talking about how she couldn’t wait until this was all done. She never once said ‘why me?’.”

Gemma started feeling pain a month after the twins were born. Her legs and back would ache so much that the new mum – who worked at a nursing home in Wallyford until her maternity leave – would be forced out of bed at night to try walking off the agony.

She visited her doctor on several occasions, but Dean feels now that she underplayed the severity of the pain she was suffering in those appointments.

In September, Gemma was sent for a scan and – still recovering from the emotional trauma of losing her baby – was given the shock news that she faced a fight with cancer.

“Her feeling in her legs went and everything. You can’t describe it, it was weird,” said Dean.

Desperate to prove a good mum to little Mia, brave Gemma fought valiantly against the disease, quickly adapting to using a wheelchair as the pain pounded her body.

Other than the Christmas and New Year visits home, she managed day trips out of the ward between regular bouts of chemotherapy.

And even though the cancer spread from her spine to Gemma’s neck and brain, she seemed to be responding well to treatment and was due to begin an intensive course of radiotherapy soon.

“But the cancer got stronger,” said Dean. “For a few days she got really sleepy and they had to up her medicine so she was more 
comfortable. They reduced it on Thursday and Friday [last week], and she was brilliant then, talking away.”

Over the weekend, however, Gemma’s condition deteriorated quickly and she died in hospital on Tuesday. “By the weekend, we were just waiting,” the footballer said.

Dean is now determined to be a good dad to Mia – something he believes would be the ultimate tribute to his “natural mum” girlfriend.

“I wasn’t very comfy [with holding the baby] at the start, she was so wee,” said Dean. “But Gemma was just a natural, it was like she did it before. And when she was in hospital, Mia got to see her every day.

“She was a complete natural – even the nurses at the neonatal unit were impressed with her.”

Holding up a picture taken on Christmas Day, he said: “This was the last one of us as a wee family. Mia was just 3lb when she was born, but she’s doing brilliantly.

“You just wouldn’t think she was that early. She’s no bother at all, she has kept us going really, smiled the whole way through it.

“From the outset, people said she looks like both of us, but when Gemma and Mia were both sleeping it was just like Gemma, her double. I guess we’ll see more of her when she grows up.”

Gemma, a former pupil of Musselburgh High, met Dean through friends when they were teenagers.

The pair, who were both Hibs fans, struck up a friendship before getting together.

“Then I saw her at a Hibs game and we talked a bit more there, and then we finally went out,” he said.

Had she not faced the cruel illness, Gemma might have been in the stands at Easter Road, where she was a season-ticket holder, last Saturday to watch her boyfriend take to the field for visitors Cowdenbeath.

Instead, fate dictated that both would miss the game.

Dean and Mia are now living with his parents in Tranent, and with Gemma’s family close by in Musselburgh and Prestonpans, his support network as he brings up his daughter is strong.

While her death remains raw, his immediate – yet painful – thoughts are turning to planning Gemma’s funeral.

The family has been inundated with support from the East Lothian community and Dean’s football club.

Condolences have also been flooding in on Dean’s social media accounts, where he first announced his devastating loss.

Fomer Hibs and current Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths was among those offering his condolences.

“Sorry to hear about your loss. Keep the head up and be strong,” he said, while Hibs said they were “saddened to learn” of Gemma’s death.

Alex Anderson, chief executive of Cowdenbeath FC, said that the news of Gemma’s death had devastated everybody at the club.

Confirming that its defender was now on compassionate leave, Mr Anderson said: “It has hit everybody at the club, including the players, very hard. It’s very, very sad news. The club will support Dean and the families in any way that we can.”

Dean said he was keen to pay tribute to the efforts of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s unit at the Western, which has offered huge support.