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Real Life

Widowed dad's sweet reminder

Now with Kat’s name on his daughter’s birth certificate, the father-daughter team can get on making memories

By Fleur Guthrie
Even though they've never met, gorgeous two-year-old Paige Harris can pick out her mother Katherine (Kat) in any photo.
"Mummy, Mummy!" chirps the excited toddler, pointing to pictures of Kat around their Te Kauwhata home.
All Kat wanted in life was to be a mum, says her widowed husband Kyle.
After suffering with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (CF) and then a double lung transplant in 2012, the young vet nurse had resigned herself to thinking that having children wouldn't be part of their future.
"She would come back from friends' baby showers crying," Kyle recalls. "It was awful. She was happy for her friends and wanted to be part of their celebration, but the aftermath was horrible seeing her so upset. Medical advice was that it wasn't safe for Kat to carry a baby because of the anti-rejection transplant drugs she was taking.
"Surrogacy was the only option for us to realise her dream. So we decided we would investigate and put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone we knew would do it."
Kyle and Kat's 2013 wedding
Friends Renee and Josh Johnson – who had finished their own family – offered to carry a baby for the couple, and through in-vitro fertilisation Renee became pregnant in the first round of IVF.
But in one of life's cruel twists, weeks later Kat developed a "funny cough". Investigations revealed her body had randomly begun rejecting her donated lungs and proved serious enough for her to be put back on the transplant list.
"She just got progressively worse and at the beginning of December 2019, which was the last pregnancy scan she went to, everyone realised that she probably wasn't going to make it."
Tragically, Kat died on December 28, aged just 37.
Her death meant the couple was unable to complete Paige's adoption after her birth – the only way intended or biological parents of a baby born through surrogacy can be officially recognised as the parents.
While grieving, Kyle had to re-do all the adoption steps, for a solo applicant, not a joint one.
Winning the landmark case, that has allowed Kat to be recognised on Paige's birth certificate
"It is currently illegal in New Zealand for a single male to adopt a female child, so my lawyer and I had to deal with that quickly as well over level 4 lockdown," he explains. "The adoption finally happened in June, but we weren't allowed to have Kat recognised on Paige's birth certificate because the Adoption Act 1955 is so ridiculously outdated, it didn't cater for surrogacy and the death of an intended mother before birth."
Believing it was Paige's birthright to have her mother named on official documents, he wrote to Births, Death and Marriages, as well as various MPs, to no avail.
A petition was then launched last year by Renee and Josh, garnering almost 60,000 signatures.
"I was blown away by that," says Kyle, who along with Josh battled for two years to force the government to make a decision.
He finally feels vindicated after recently winning the landmark case and picking up Paige's updated birth certificate in March.
"Holding that piece of paper was such a relief," he smiles. "It was like a weight had been lifted. I didn't realise how much it was weighing on me, mentally and emotionally."
Sharing his late wife's story as part of CF Awareness Month, Kyle, 35, describes Kat as "simply amazing".
The sweet-hearts met in their early twenties, but Kat initially kept her health condition a secret as she didn't want to burden him with it.
Kat nine months after her lung transplant
Having CF meant her body produced abnormally thick mucus that clogged her lungs, leaving her vulnerable to severe respiratory and digestive issues.
"Her lung capacity at that point was between 30 to 40 percent," Kyle tells. "She'd unload half the dishwasher and be absolutely exhausted. Or she'd walk to the letterbox and I'd have to bring her back in a wheelchair."
At the time, the break-through drug Trikafta – heralded for turning CF from a life-threatening condition to a manageable one – was still in very early development.
"We can't wait for Trikafta to be funded because every day more damage is being done to a CF patient's lungs," says Kyle. "The whole idea of Trikafta is to stop it from getting to the point of needing a transplant."
The engaged couple had been together for five years before Kat was bumped up onto the "active" transplant list, with doctors saying she wouldn't survive the year without one.
"One day, she rang me at work to say she was going to get the gift of new lungs. After the transplant, it was an immediate change for her. Hospital staff joked they were going to kick her out of ICU for talking too much!"
Following their wedding a year later, the pair travelled around Europe and ticked off things Kat had never previously had the energy to do.
She became a founding trustee of charity The Rock Vets Nuie and threw herself into fundraising to visit the island country each year, performing free veterinary work.
"She was genuinely one of those people who just wanted to help others and animals. I see so much of her in Paige. Like the bossiness!" he laughs.
"About 10 minutes after Paige was born, we had a wee chat. I told her, 'Dad's dealt with enough. Can you please go easy on me?' I like to think we had an understanding that will last a lifetime."
CF is a genetic condition affecting more than 540 people in New Zealand. One in 25 of us carry the faulty gene without knowing it. This month, CFNZ has launched its new fundraising campaign Cruel Needs Kind. Visit cruelneedskind.co.nz
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  • undefined: Fleur Guthrie

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