Abigail Witchalls: 'My new healthy baby boy gave me the strength to survive'

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The Independent Online

Abigail Witchalls, the young mother left paralysed earlier this year by a shocking knife attack that almost killed her, spoke yesterday of her joy at giving birth to a healthy baby boy, saying carrying the infant had given her the strength to survive.

Speaking for the first time about the birth, Mrs Witchalls said: "I've found great strength and comfort in carrying this child over the past few months and it is such a blessing and joy to now finally see him face to face."

Mrs Witchalls, 26, was in the early stages of her pregnancy when she was stabbed with a three-inch blade in the back of the neck in the quiet Surrey village of Little Bookham in April.

She was not expected to survive and was administered the last rites. On Friday, however, she gave birth to a baby boy weighing 5lb 6oz. Although five weeks premature, the birth was natural and Mrs Witchalls was yesterday successfully breastfeeding.

Her husband, Benoit, added: "Once again the healthcare professionals at St George's have been so attentive and generous. We are really looking forward to an exciting homecoming once more, except now with another beautiful son and brother for Joseph."

Mrs Witchalls was only released from hospital last week following the horrific injuries she received while pushing her 21-month-old son Joseph home from a mother and toddler group.

The statement issued by Mr and Mrs Witchalls yesterday added: "Abigail and Benoit are delighted to announce the arrival of their second son. Abigail had a natural birth with very little assistance and did not require a Caesarean section. The baby weighed 5lb 6oz and was born a little early, at 35 weeks, but is still healthy. With help to support her newborn, Abigail has started breastfeeding successfully.

"Abigail will be in hospital for several days and will return to live with her husband Ben and son Joseph at their home in Little Bookham. They will continue to live in the home that they have lived in since they were married which is being suitably adapted. Abigail has already enjoyed a week at home with her family and new carers.

"Joseph said after seeing the baby for the first time 'Baby come out' and is looking forward to playing with his brother."

Mrs Witchalls gave birth in the same hospital she was admitted to after the attack, St George's in Tooting, south London. Her mother, Professor Sheila Holllins, is a consultant psychiatrist at the hospital

With her family once again at her bedside yesterday afternoon, the contrast with those dark days in April could not be more pronounced. Then Mrs Witchalls' parents, brother and two sisters were praying for her life.

Today they are celebrating what friends have called a double "miracle" - that Abigail not only survived but has been able to give birth to a healthy baby.

Mrs Witchalls was attacked in daylight on a public footpath. She told police that as she struggled to open a gate she turned to see her attacker holding a knife to Joseph's throat. With the boy at risk, she walked towards the man before being stabbed in the neck.

Neighbours who heard her screams came running from nearby houses to find her slumped in the mud with Joseph out of his buggy and next to his mother.

She was given a less than 50 per cent chance of surviving. If she did recover, it was thought she would be completely paralysed.

But displaying astonishing courage and fortitude Mrs Witchalls fought first for her life, and then for her recuperation. After the attack she could only communicate by blinking. She still managed to give information to the police.

When she was released from hospital last week she was able to breathe for herself, talk and had some movement in her right arm, meaning she will be able to feed herself. She will, however, need 24-hour nursing.

There is another twist to the Witchalls' story. Abigail's brother, Nigel, who has learning difficulties, was himself the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack in which he was left for dead five years ago.

Nigel, 32, was set on by two men in an alley near a south London railway station as he walked to his parents' home in Wimbledon for Mother's Day. He was beaten and robbed and had rocks thrown at his head. His injuries were so severe he needed a metal plate in his head.

Yesterday the neighbours who had answered Mrs Witchall's screams joined in prayers of thanksgiving in Little Bookham. Father John Sheehy, who led the service at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church, said afterwards: "I am delighted the baby is safely delivered. We are all offering prayers of thanksgiving and will continue to pray for the welfare of the family."

Surrey police have passed a file on the investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service. Richard Cazaly, 23, from Fleet, Hampshire has been treated as a suspect since his apparent suicide from an overdose in Scotland days later.

A trust fund has been set up, and any donations may be given to The Abigail Witchalls Trust, PO Box 54047, London SW20 8ZH.

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