Bride Saima Herz proudly poses for a wedding photographer in her white lace gown – looking forward to her new life with husband Michael.
But only four months after her big day she would be wearing her dress once again – to be laid to rest.
Saima’s dreams of a long and happy future as a wife and mum were tragically ended by a sudden brain disease.
And Michael, 29 – himself struck by tragedy in childhood – was robbed of the woman who had helped him to become happy again.
Now, in her memory, he is working tirelessly to raise money for more research into the killer disease that snatched Saima, 30, from him.
“She was everything to me,” says Michael. “She always said she wanted to wear her wedding dress again one day – so she was buried in it. And I asked that all the ushers from our wedding walk her coffin to her grave.”
Saima was killed by encephalitis – a condition that causes inflammation of the brain and claims 6,000 victims a year in the UK.
“On the day of her funeral I told Saima I would make her proud,” says Michael.
“And if one good thing can come out of this horrendous situation, it’s to raise awareness and help other families.”
He and Saima met through dating website Plenty of Fish in September 2015.
They spoke for three months online before meeting in person.
Up to then, Michael had been wary of forming close relationships, scarred in childhood by a family tragedy.
When he was 12 his mum Jane, 37, and brother Ben, nine, were killed in a car crash on a holiday in South Africa.
Michael and his dad Adam were in the car but survived.
“Growing up, I was unsure about letting someone into my life.
“I was scared to lose another person,” he says. “But as soon as I saw Saima I fell in love.”
They quickly became inseparable – and a year later Michael proposed to nursery manager Saima.
“It may have seemed quick, but I had no doubt I’d found my soulmate,” he said.
“Saima was my best friend. We loved travelling, going out, seeing our circle of friends – building our life together.”
They married at a converted textile mill in Manchester in August 2018 in front of 175 guests – Saima wearing the beautiful white gown she had picked out with the help of her mum and sisters.
“I bawled my eyes out when I saw her in her dress. She looked beautiful,” he says. “We got married under a canopy made from my mum’s wedding dress.”
After a honeymoon in Mauritius, they quickly settled into a blissful married life – but in early December, Saima began to complain of flu-like symptoms. She saw her GP who advised her to rest and take paracetamol.
“All she said was she felt miserable and run down,” says Michael.
Saima felt well enough to go into the nursery next day – but then Michael, who now works in his family’s clothing business, got a call from the nursery.
“I raced over. Saima hardly recognised me. She struggled to walk. I had to carry her to the car.
“When we got to A&E, she had seizures. Then her eyes rolled back and she stopped responding. I fell to my knees, crying in the hospital.”
Doctors placed Saima in an induced coma to run tests.
A scan revealed her brain was swollen by encephalitis, a condition caused by either infection or the immune system attacking it.
Symptoms include headaches, neck stiffness, drowsiness, confusion, altered personality, hallucinations and memory loss.
For four days, doctors at Manchester’s Stepping Hill Hospital fought to save her.
Michael says: “The medical team took advice from encephalitis specialists, but they told us Saima’s brain and many of her organs weren’t functioning.
“Her heart was only beating because she was on a machine. If they turned it off, she’d have little chance.
“I prayed to God, ‘If she survives but has no quality of life, please take her.’
I knew she would have hated being in a vegetative state.”
When doctors could find no heartbeat, Michael and Saima’s family agreed the machine should be turned off.
“I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and that I’d make her proud,” he says.
In keeping with the couple’s Jewish faith, Saima was buried the next day on December 18 – 16 weeks after they wed.
Many of the guests who had been at the wedding were at Saima’s funeral as she was buried in her wedding dress in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester.
Michael, of Cheadle, says: “My godfather has asked if there was anything I wanted in the service. I said Saima had wanted to wear her dress again. I fetched it from the wardrobe and handed it to him.
“In my funeral speech I said how much I loved her and how I had lost my soulmate.”
Next April, Michael will take on a three-day, 200-mile cycling challenge from his Manchester wedding venue to London’s Buckingham Palace in a bid to raise £25,000 for the Encephalitis Society, hoping more research will lead to better treatment and a better chance of survival.
He will be joined by about 30 other riders, many of whom knew Saima.
“Even those who survive encephalitis can be left with horrible side effects,” he says. “It’s so dangerous. More research will mean people like Saima don’t just disappear.
“I decided to end up at Buckingham Palace because I wanted somewhere fit for a queen. That’s what Saima was to me.”
For more information on encephalitis, click here . To help Michael's fundraising, click here
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