WATCHING Pam and Tony Mandry interact with the special little boy they have dedicated their lives to brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.
The amazing pair have cared for their grandson, six-year-old Joshua Cool, for virtually all of his life. Their enthusiasm and drive has not faltered - and it shows.
For Joshua is blind, he can’t talk, walk, or even really move, yet his little face and eyes, framed with long, thick, black eyelashes, light up, when his grandparents touch him, speak to him and play with his favourite squeaky toys.
He is their life.
It is a very different life than they had ever planned when they were married at Hartlepool Register Office 16 years ago on July 15, 1995.Tony and Pam’s futures took an unexpected turn on July 3, 2004, when a completely healthy 15-day-old Joshua was burned with a cigarette, and shaken so violently by his father Paul Cool that he suffered severe brain injuries and bleeding to his eyes.
In fact the helpless baby’s head swelled up to twice its original size and his tongue puffed up so much it would not fit into his mouth.
Tony, who gave up his job as a process operator to care for his grandson and Joshua’s older sibling, said: “I knew seven years ago that he was going to come home with us.
“I’ll always remember walking past the window of the hospital room and seeing him, and then going in and seeing his head so swollen and tubes coming from absolutely everywhere.
“I knew it was bad but as soon as I looked at him I knew he was a fighter and I said to Pam ‘he’s coming home with us’.
“She didn’t dare think too positively in case the worst happened but he did, just like I’d said.
“We weren’t allowed to touch him at first because of his head but the first time the doctors said he was allowed out it was Pam who held him and fed him his bottle.
“From that moment I think he became a nana’s boy as though he associates her smell and sound with comfort. I believe that our Joshua thinks ‘if I whinge or have a groan, nana’s going to come.”
He added: “Seven years have just flown by, and Joshua’s fought all the way. He’s an inspiration.”
But do they see themselves as inspirational?
“You don’t know how many people say that,” said Tony.
“They say ‘how do you do it’, but you just do, we don’t see it as anything special. If you’re put in the situation we found ourselves in then you just get on and do it.
“You’d do anything for your grandchildren in that situation, end of. I’d put my life on the line for these kids, that’s how much I, we, love them.”
It also seems like their love for each other has grown, when many couples may be driven apart by the extra stress, work and sheer tiredness.
Tony said: “I think we’ve got stronger, I really do. If it wasn’t for Pam I don’t know what I would have done, she’s the absolute rock of this family.
“We put our lives on hold all those years ago but we both agree that it’s absolutely worth it as long as Joshua and the other grandkids are happy. We’ve got five grandkids and we’re here for all of them.”
Pam, a former hospital worker, who gets up to see to Joshua several times a night, agreed, saying: “It has definitely brought us closer together and we are stronger. It’s not all doom and gloom, we do have a laugh together.
“I try not to dwell on what happened to Joshua. I try to look to the future at the achievements he’s made and his funny little personality.
“I don’t want us to live our lives always remembering the past, I want us to get on with our lives for us and all the kids.”
Tony finds it harder to forget, however, and often thinks about what Joshua would have been like had he not been disabled for life.
“I still think now what he might have been like,” said Tony. “What his voice might have been like and hearing him shout ‘nana and granda’, what football team he would support, would he be playing football, it’s always there.”
Another thing not far from Tony’s thoughts is Joshua’s dad, who was jailed for seven years in 2005 for the crimes against his son, which Teesside Crown Court Judge Les Spittle described as “abhorrent”.
The now 29-year-old was released on licence in March 2009 after serving just four years of his sentence, and just weeks ago that licence expired.
“He’s apparently living in Newcastle”, said Tony. “I think it’s disgraceful that he could come here and stand on my drive if he wanted to. He’s an animal and he should be locked up forever after what he did. He’s living a free life, and Joshua is doing life.
“I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder and I’m always checking people out. Like the other day I saw someone who was the absolute pop of him and I could feel the anger. It wasn’t him though but I’m always suspicious.
“He wouldn’t get anywhere near them, I’d do anything for them as any father or grandfather would.”
The pair have done everything they can for Joshua, even adapting their Lancaster Road home to suit his needs with a new driveway, stairlift, shower, hoists, light shows and swings.
They even endure countless repeats of singer Rod Stewart’s CDs “because Joshua loves him!”