It should have been a time of sheer joy - a first child and the start of life as a family, rather than as a couple. And when she clutched her newborn baby to her chest, Irrum Jetha felt the surge of love that any mother would.

Unknown to her, however, something was wrong - so wrong, that the euphoria would soon turn to tragedy.

Today Irrum finds herself paralysed from the pelvis down, confined to a wheelchair and forced to live in hope of some miracle cure that might be brought about by five hours of agonising exercise a day.

And beset by troubling questions about her treatment at the flagship Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, Irrum, 34, and her husband Adam, 37, have instructed a leading firm of solicitors to investigate how a routine epidural appears to have gone so badly wrong.

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The couple, from West Ruislip, Middlesex, have set up an appeal to raise the money needed for even more intensive treatment - help not available on the NHS - and it may prove to be Irrum's only chance of ever walking again.

They believe her problem began when an epidural - a painkilling injection administered in the spinal cord - was given before baby Amelie was born at 3.30am on August 29, 2014.
It is a routine and, in almost all cases, trouble-free procedure: one mother in four who has a hospital birth in the UK receives epidural pain relief.

Irrum with her daughter, Amelie, and husband, Adam. Photo / Gofundme.com
Irrum with her daughter, Amelie, and husband, Adam. Photo / Gofundme.com

Because Irrum had had a pulmonary heart valve replaced when she was 19, she was recommended to have the epidural to reduce the potential strain on her heart.

She recalls: "The birth itself was a fabulous experience. I was euphoric afterwards. And when Adam cried 'It's a girl' we were both in tears."

At five in the morning, she was transferred to the high-dependency unit, again as a precaution because of her previous heart surgery.

When, three hours later, she still had no feeling in her legs, Irrum told doctors she was worried. She says: "They reassured me it was normal, but I was very uneasy."

By 5pm the following day, however, she was seriously concerned. An hour later, it seemed the doctors were, too.

Adam, a researcher at Imperial College in London, says: "The doctors were now saying that Irrum should be able to get up. I began to get seriously worried because she still had no feeling. Suddenly everyone seemed to be in panic mode. It all became very scary."

The hospital decided at 6pm that Irrum needed an MRI scan but, because its own unit had closed at 5pm, they decided to move her to another London hospital, Charing Cross, just a few miles away. That transfer took four hours and she didn't get there until 10pm.

At Charing Cross, doctors discovered Irrum had suffered a rare epidural haematoma: the injection had caused a blood clot to compress her spinal cord, which had left her paralysed. She had hours of emergency surgery to take the pressure off her spinal cord - an operation that was itself life-threatening.

Adam had to leave his new daughter in one hospital to be with his wife in another. And for the first six days of Amelie's life, Irrum was too ill to see her.

She says: "Even though I was frantically worried, I was thinking about Amelie all the time."

It was left to Adam to bring Amelie home and start looking after her alone. Irrum was moved to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, which specialises in spinal injuries, and eventually came home just before Christmas 2014.

Some 20 months later, Irrum, a scientist, remains paralysed. Her lawyer, Laura Craig from Slater and Gordon, describes her situation as one of unimaginable horror, and says that "the bravery she has shown is awe-inspiring."

The firm is now investigating whether delays in treatment, connected with her epidural, led to her becoming paralysed. It's a possibility that will concern any would-be mother.

Life has changed for ever for Irrum and Adam. "It has been a huge struggle," says Irrum.

"I'm in a lot of pain and I don't feel confident enough to leave the house in my chair alone. At times I feel so very useless.

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"Obviously I can't go back to my old job as I was on my feet all day in the laboratory. And Adam has had to more or less give up work to look after both of us.

"Even now I've never spent a single moment alone with Amelie. Because of my disability I can't look after her alone, there are too many things that could go wrong.

"I can't bath her alone or change her myself. The world that I knew has collapsed and the pain of not being able to care for my little girl is devastating.

"There have been so many mother-and-daughter bonding moments that I have missed. And I will never get those back. Every time I see a mother walking with her baby I am in tears.

"I've gone from being an active young wife to being entirely dependent on Adam. Not only does he have to care for Amelie, he has become my carer too."

There has been one glimmer of hope: just before Christmas, Irrum began feeling a twitching in one thigh.

So now she endures five hours of painful daily "manipulation" with a physiotherapist to try to coax some life back into her lower limbs.

Not that pain is unusual; trapped uncomfortably in the wheelchair, she says it is a constant companion.

The plan now is to raise enough to go to a German clinic that offers specialist physiotherapy treatment. Irrum says: 'I would need to spend three months at the Zentrum der Rehabilitation Geerlofs centre in Pforzheim - but it will cost £40,000.

"I had a preliminary examination there in October and they are confident that after the treatment, I may be able to take a few steps using a walking frame. The hope of that is what keeps us going."

A spokesman for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said in a statement: "This was a very complex, rare and tragic case and we offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Jetha and her family. We have fully reviewed our procedures for post-anaesthetic monitoring and for rapid transfer to specialist units for imaging and neurosurgery. We cannot offer any further comment at the moment as this case is the subject of legal proceedings."

lIrrum and Adam's fundraising page is at gofundme.com/irrumjetha.