How 'fortunate' Jade Sharp is climbing back from depths of despair after losing her child as she scales Mount Kilimanjaro

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Her breath shortens slightly, becoming steadily deeper, and the eyes glisten in the bright lights overhead.

But somehow, somehow, the tears do not fall.

Jade Sharp - wife, mother, tower of strength - is, with admirable honesty and barely-believable bravery, recalling the events of October 2011, a few days which will live with her forever. Her first child, with now-husband and Sheffield United captain Billy, was born six weeks early, weighing just over 4lb, and with gastroschisis, a defect which affects the abdominal wall.

The condition carries a survival rate of 95 per cent. But baby Luey didn't make it.

"When he came, he went to surgery and was supposed to be there for four hours," said Jade. "But he came back after 20 minutes. The doctors said there was nothing they could do."

Through their grief, Jade and Billy had accepted that their little boy wouldn't survive. He was born on Saturday night, and the striker held his son as they watched Match of the Day together for the first and only time. Jade says that minutes felt like hours as Luey battled for life, his parents wishing the pain away after his lungs had failed. Then, he took his final breath. He was two days old.

Jade is married to Billy Sharp, but insists she isn't a 'WAG'

Jade is married to Billy Sharp, but insists she isn't a 'WAG'

In the days and weeks that followed, football rallied. At that point Billy was at Doncaster Rovers and insisted he was ready to play on the Tuesday, just three days after Luey's death. Sharp was Rovers' captain that night and scored a stunning volley against Middlesbrough, celebrating by scoring a stunning volley. He lifted his shirt to reveal a message. 'That's for you, son'.

On the Thursday of that week, then-Rovers manager Dean Saunders changed the time of training so Billy could attend Luey's funeral. On the Saturday he scored again, at Ipswich's Portman Road. All four sides applauded the goal and, even in a sport as tribal as football, the result was largely irrelevant. Billy has never forgotten that gesture.

But for Jade, there was nothing to take her mind off Luey and she experienced, in her own words, some "very dark days". She believes she might not be here at all, to tell her story, were it not for the help of Mind, the mental health charity.

Instead, she decided to fight and will this week climb Mount Kilimanjaro with seven others to raise money for Mind and The GEM Appeal, which supports children with life threatening disorders.

Baby Luey in the hospital

Baby Luey in the hospital

"It'll obviously physically exhausting as we're walking between six and 16 hours a day," says Jade . "But it's more the altitude that's the killer. I've been doing some altitude training but there's a limit how much we can do, living in Sheffield.

"I've just got to grab the bull by the horns, as they say... get up there and see how we go on. I'm Scottish, so we're not well known for planning. We just get on with things."

The words may seem like bravado, but Jade is made of stern stuff and there is an inner steel to her that almost leaps across the table when we meet, at the hotel next to United's Bramall Lane stadium where her husband is a hero. Born in Edinburgh, she describes herself as an honorary Yorkshirewoman after spending more time in the county than in Scotland - "although I've managed to keep my accent, luckily," she laughs - and met Billy after quitting her job in charge of a recruitment firm to move back to Wakefield, where much of her family is based.

She arrives early, in a New York Yankees baseball cap and oversized jacket, with her name and the 250 Mount Kilimanjaro Challenge logo embroidered on it. She poses patiently while our photographer snaps away, admitting she hasn't brushed her hair in a while and joking how it flies in the face of the WAG stereotype.

Jade is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Mind and the Gem Appeal

Jade is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for Mind and the Gem Appeal

And when an over-attentive receptionist queries why we're taking pictures, she avoids revealing who she is. We perch on a round table in the corner of the restaurant for privacy, and Jade notices it is wonky when she leans on it and sends everything in the air. She chuckles at someone's pitiful attempt to balance it out with paper and packets of sugar. I admit it was mine. We laugh.

But the smiles subside when the topic turns. She knows that Luey will crop up in the conversation and admits she'd cried that very morning, during an interview with local radio. Jade is 31 now and although the passage of time may have eased the pain a little, it will obviously never leave her fully.

Carrying Luey, she remembers, had been a "troublesome" pregnancy and was told that he had gastroschisis. She and Billy were handed a leaflet with minimal information about the condition, and told about the favourable survival rate. Then he arrived early, and was sent back early from theatre. His bowel was outside his body and had turned black; his parents were fearing the worst.

"There was just no blood flowing in his body," Jade says. "His bowel was too small for a transplant, and he just would never have made it. We were at the LGI in Leeds but went to Martin House and got to spend a few days with him."

Much of what followed is, in Jade's own words, 'a black hole' - her body's way, she believes, of coping with the trauma. "It was a relief when he went," she adds. "He died a few times and they kept bringing him back to life. By the end, we knew he was going to die so it was like, 'stop fighting now. Stop putting yourself through the pain'.

"He lasted longer than we thought, by about a day or so. That doesn't sound a long time but when you're in that situation, living minute by minute, it feels like an eternity. He had a heart monitor on overnight so if he died in the night, an alarm would wake us up.

Jade Sharp

Jade Sharp

“That was horrendous. Now, if I take the little ones into the hospital and hear that noise, I cry. I had to stop volunteering at the hospital.

"At the time it happened, the first series of the TV show One Born Every Minute was being filmed and they asked us to go on it. We obviously said no but there was another family of a baby who had gastroscisis, and we went into labour near enough the same time. They agreed to be on the show, their baby was born and is absolutely fine.

"Now, it's a black hole. I can never open that door, I can't ever go back there. I wonder if it'll come out when I'm older; if the gates will open a little. I had counselling, which was pretty raw, but still I couldn't get deep. My body has shut it down. It's gone."

Around 18 months after losing Luey, Jade gave birth to another son, Leo, and Milo followed in December 2015. Remarkably, though, Jade insists she had no fears of similar trouble with either labour. Leo was delivered by ceaserian after twisting in the womb - "I knew he'd be trouble from the start," Jade laughed - and the couple were advised to consider a termination after a 'genetic condition' was spotted on Milo's scan. Jade then received a phone call telling her it was a false report, and Milo was fine.

But the impact, both physically and psycholigically, of losing Luey has been great. Jade cannot remember the first two years of Leo's life, such is the extent of the 'black hole'. She has no recollection of her feelings when Billy bravely played against Boro, scored and revealed his t-shirt tribute. But she does remember the reaction. "The football world gets so much bad press but they were amazing," she says. "But at the end of the day, they were all behind Billy. I found that quite tough.

"I just had to get on with it. We moved in the January to Southampton, which was an amazing club but a horrible experience for me. I had no friends, and there were some dark days. I was pregnant with Leo quite soon after, whilst still mourning the child I didn't have.

"But I had to live. There were times when I didn't want to live, I didn't want to be here. But that's where Mind supported me tremendously. Without them, I wouldn't be here today.

"We set up a foundation in Luey's honour and raised over half a million pounds for lots of different things, but I had to shut it down. It was too much for me to do on my own. I was gutted at first but looking back, I think it helped me get through the dark days and also helped raise cash and awareness of the condition."

Mind's partnership with the EFL comes at a time when as many as one in four people suffer with mental health issues. Jade has been in contact with Billy Kee, the Accrington Stanley striker who opened up recently about living with anxiety and severe depression, and was touched personally by the death of DJ Avicii, who committed suicide earlier this year.

"It's not just in football," Jade adds. "Throughout the whole sports world and beyond there is so much pressure to perform, with armchair fans on their backs with this idealistic view of how things should happen. They're real people at the end of the day, be them footballers, golfers, DJs or whatever. They have feelings; they're not robots. Give me health over wealth, any day.

"Going through that with Luey brought Billy and I closer together, definitely, and made me more resilient as a person. My exact attitude maybe isn't suitable for repeating in a newspaper, but it's about not giving a... not having a care in the world. You have to get on with life... we weren't going to sit there and feel sorry for ourselves.

"Billy and I say to this day that sometimes, we feel fortunate that it happened to us because going through something like that could break someone else. That's our positive way of thinking about it. We have two absolutely beautiful boys now, and I feel so fortunate to have them. We're just normal people."

Jade is clearly no ‘WAG’. "I find the term really demeaning. Isn't everyone a wife or a girlfriend?" she asks. "At the bigger clubs, with the more money your husband gets paid, there is a certain lifestyle that comes with it but there's none of that at Sheffield United. We're in the Championship!

"But there's the stereotype that we spend all our time in salons getting our hair done, isn't there? I haven't brushed my hair for three days before this interview, so there goes that idea! It's important to me to keep my own identity, but it's hard because when the players move clubs, we don't get a say in it.

"I'm desperate to get back to work if I can find a job that suits what I need, and I am my own person. I'm not a WAG or just Billy Sharp's wife. I am Jade. To be honest, I don't use my married name most of the time in Sheffield. I use my maiden name. When I volunteered at the hospital, it got out that I was Billy's wife because one of the staff's sons went to his football camp, and it soon spread. Then I either had people desperate to talk to me, or who didn't want to talk to me.

"I couldn't be bothered with all that. I'm just a normal person married to someone who does his hobby part-time!"

An ordinary person, taking on an unbelievable challenge. Jade and the group will spend five days climbing Kilimanjaro - three days up, two down - although a mystery illness has hampered her preparations somewhat. "I've just got to get stuck in. What's the worst that can happen?" she asks, before answering her own question. "Well, the worst is that you can die. People have died doing it. But I could die crossing the road leaving here, couldn't I? That's no way to live life.

"Look at the African children we'll see over there. They have nothing. Everyone knows the motto from the Lion King but it's a real thing... no worries. I can't wait to come back and delete all my social media accounts, because they're really bad for the mind. I'm looking forward to coming back and being more grateful and appreciative.

"We should get to the peak for sunrise, which will be an emotional time. What will I think about while I'm up there? My family, and I'm taking some of Luey's ashes up there too to scatter them. I'll think about how lucky and fortunate we still are. And then I'll think about climbing back down again."

To read more about the Kilimanjaro climb, or donate to the charities, visit

Sharp bravely played just days after the death of his son, and scored before revealing this poignant message

Sharp bravely played just days after the death of his son, and scored before revealing this poignant message