An adored disabled man who was not expected to live to cut his first tooth has celebrated his 30th birthday alongside his guardian angel parents.
Michael Landreth was born suffering with cerebral palsy and profound learning difficulties and went to stay with Cath and Derek Landreth, who were respite foster carers at the time.
Ten-month-old Michael stayed with the loving Hartlepool couple, who have two biological children as well, for two weeks before he returned home.
But after four days Michael was returned to Cath and Derek, who had “fallen in love with him” by this point, and they decided to go on and adopt him and bring him up as their own.
As a result, despite his severe health problems which require round the clock care by his dedicated parents, Michael has lived a fulfilling life visiting many countries around the world for holidays, and also taking part in many activities in his wheelchair.
Cath said: “When we first got him the social workers told us ‘just love him, he won’t see his first birthday, he might not even get to cut a tooth’.
“They said he would never recognise us but all that couldn’t be further from the reality of it because he does. He knows who’s who. He can laugh, he can tell us when he’s not happy.”
Cath, 64, and Derek, 68, dedicated three decades of their lives to Michael, 30, and have put up with a lot of work over the years, for as well as Michael’s general care he has had to have many operations including having rods put in and out of his spine, having a tracheoctomy fitted to help him breath and a feeding tube in his stomach.
This was all while they also brought up their two other children Derek Landreth junior, 41, a dad-of-four who now lives in Holland, and Claire Landreth, a 39-year-old mum-of-two from Hartlepool.
Cath said: “Derek (junior) and Claire were 11 and nine years old when Michael came along and they just accepted him into the family. He was just part of us and that was that. We made sure their lives didn’t stop.”
The whole family got to see how Michael learned to communicate in his own way with his “smiling face or his sad face”, he can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by nodding or shaking his head, and even drags on his trachea if he wants getting out of his wheelchair and onto the bed.
Cath says Michael has enjoyed ice-skating, rock-climbing, horse and trap riding, abseiling, canoeing, and holidays to Spain, Portugal, Holland, Majorca and the Norfolk Broads.
For his 30th birthday he had a party in Ye Olde Durham Social Club, off Stockton Road, in Hartlepool, which was attended by 150 people.
Cath said: “Thirty years just seems like a massive milestone to reach with him. We’re proud that we’ve done it and we’re proud of him.
“In our family we have a motto, it’s not, ‘we can’t do it’, it’s, ‘how are we going to do it’. And we have!”
She added: “It’s been traumatic at times with worry about him, mentally hard work, but it’s also been very rewarding to see how he has developed. I like to think he’s had a good life.
“He is our life and everything we do revolves around Michael. I can’t imagine life without him. I just see him as mine, absolutely. We never say to anybody that we’ve adopted him. Lots and lots of people don’t know and they get a shock when they find out.”