Our little girl loved people and made all she met talk to her... She was meant to live with us forever
The parents of a 10-year-old girl who died suddenly need help in building a lasting tribute to their wonderful daughter at the school she loved. Paul Whyatt reports.
SUCH was her happiness and zest for life, Maddy Briggs would clap and sing her way to school – and her classmates and teachers were thrilled when she arrived.
"She just loved people and everyone loved her," explains her devoted father, Stephen, 44. "She was the most sociable little girl. Everyone she met, she left her mark on."
She was that popular at St Giles' – a Derby special needs primary school – that teachers visited her at home in the summer holidays simply because, as Stephen puts it, "they missed her".
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High up the list of Maddy's biggest fans are her two younger sisters, twins Francesca and Scarlett.
Though the six-year-olds are no longer able to play with their big sister, who died in August last year following a severe epileptic seizure at the family's Mickleover home, both say Maddy – short for Madeleine – now exists in their hearts and minds.
"The twins miss her," says Claire, their heartbroken mother. "Maddy loved playing with them, especially around Markeaton Park and on the trampoline in the garden."
Claire, 38, describes her first-born as "a wonderful little person" who, as a result of having learning difficulties and epilepsy, was "meant to live with us forever".
She adds: "She was a special needs pupil but she was just special, really.
"She drew people towards her and was full of life. If she was here now she'd have taken your pen and pad off you and would be off by the window asking questions and pretending to write.
"We go to Spain every year because she loved it there. She would get up in the early hours, saying, 'Pool now!'"
Stephen, who works in the logistics department at Toyota's Burnaston plant, adds: "Her favourite place in Derby was Markeaton Park. We went every weekend to feed the ducks and walk up to see the horses and donkey.
"Maddy was on first-name terms with all the staff at the cafe. She wanted to go to play and see people. She loved everyone. She'd befriend everyone and make them talk to her. We were so lucky to have her. We wouldn't change the love and warmth she showed us for 10 years for anything."
An inquest earlier this month in Derby found Maddy suffered as "sudden unexpected death in epilepsy".
The hearing heard Claire found her "unresponsive" in bed at 7.45am on August 29. She was rushed to the Royal Derby Hospital but medics were unable to save her.
Stephen and Claire say the shock to them is immeasurable, particularly as Maddy – whose first seizure happened as the family were driving to Cornwall for a holiday when she was 10 months old – was enjoying far better health than in her younger years.
Stephen says: "She reached a point where she had blossomed. One year, when she was aged two or three, she had 60 seizures but then she went on to have none at all in 2005 and early 2006.
"Doctors tried different medication. Each time, it was a trial to see what worked. The medication she was on until she died was the most effective. She only had three seizures in 2012 up until the one that took her from us."
Claire says: "She used to have them in clusters. If she had one, she would usually have another two within 24 hours. It was horrible – one seizure is too many, especially for a little girl.
"It was worrying for us. She could have three or four in 10 minutes, although they wouldn't be major. Seizures became more severe but less frequent as she grew older.
"Over the last two years, they became nocturnal. She would wake in the night and it was always when she was falling back to sleep that it would happen.
"She had some at school but most of them happened when she was going to sleep, which is what happened on the morning she went."
Claire says the months that followed Maddy's tragic death have been "torture".
She adds: "The house feels empty with four of us in it. We're a family of five, not four. She made us all better people for having her in our lives.
"We've lived here for two years and we can still sense Maddy here. This is her home. Her bedroom upstairs is untouched.
"But it's a different dynamic now. Even though we've got our twin girls, it's very quiet compared to when Maddy was here. She was singing all the time and clapping away.
"We were told it's incredibly rare to die from epilepsy but have since discovered from the Sudden Death in Epilepsy charity that 1,000 a year die from it. We're still trying to understand it."
Stephen adds: "There's not a word in the dictionary that can describe the pain.
"We can't understand why this has happened. We've had explanations but we still don't understand. How can this happen? I wouldn't wish this on anybody.
"The pain will never go away. People say time is a healer but it's just words. The reality is different. She was everything to us.
"For us, it's terrible. But for Maddy, it was her life and it was a happy one. The world is a sad place without her."
Stephen and Claire say they are desperate to raise enough funds to build St Giles School an outdoor classroom and sensory garden as a thank-you to the staff and a lasting memorial to Maddy.
The couple, who have been married for 13 years, plan to hold a charity auction and raffle in May. They are appealing to people to donate what they can.
Stephen says: "We'd like some really good prizes to raise as much as possible for the school. We want to show our appreciation of how well the school looked after Maddy for six years.
"The staff are amazing. It's their kindness, patience, understanding and skill that make the teachers so good.
"A parent can be nervous about leaving their child at a school but we were always happy for Maddy to go there.
"Maddy used to hurry out of the house in the morning because she loved going there. She was the life and soul of her class. There are lots of children there with a mix of disabilities and Maddy interacted with them all.
"When it was her funeral, they closed the school early and 60 staff went.
"This would have been Maddy's last year at the school and we were worried about her leaving and starting a new school again."
Claire adds: "She liked to pretend she was one of the teachers and looked after the other children. When there was a tidy-up after snack time, she'd stand with the teachers with folded arms. She was a big character."
Anyone who would like to donate money or gifts for the auction should call reporter Paul Whyatt on Derby 253053 or e-mail pwhyatt@derby telegraph.co.uk.