Poignant family campaign for former Norwich City player Danny Mills

Former Norwich City defender Danny Mills is hoping he can help other families avoid the pain that his family went through in November 2002.

That was when the Norfolk-born footballer saw his family's world rocked by the death of his unborn son due to severe spina bifida and hydrocephalus four months into his wife Lisa's pregnancy.

The tragedy struck just five months after the former Sprowston High School student had reached a career high, playing as England's first choice right-back in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

In the past eight years, Mr Mills and his wife have campaigned for the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (ASBAH), which today launches an awareness campaign called 'Go Folic Before You Frolic!' at the House of Commons.

The campaign hopes to make prospective mothers aware that folic acid before and during pregnancy can be a big help in battling the congenital defects.

Mr Mills, now 33 and working as a football pundit, said ahead of today's launch: 'After the second scan we were told Archie had severe spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

'We were told that there was no way Archie would survive so the only blessing was that we didn't have to make a decision.

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'We were told he had a large hole in his back and his spinal cord was damaged beyond repair.

'His brain was very under-developed and his head was full of fluid.

'I'm seen as a strong person and not that emotional, but it was the first time my kids had ever seen me cry. It was devastating for all of us.'

The distress was compounded further for the couple when Lisa had to deliver the baby naturally when she went into early labour.

The couple now have four children and live in the Leeds area but continue to support ASBAH, with Mr Mills raising �13,000 for the organisation by doing the Brighton Marathon in a wheelchair last year.

Spina bifida is the term used to describe the congenital defects that affect the spine and nervous system.

It occurs when tissue called the neural tube, which forms around the central nervous system of the growing embryo, fails to completely close.

Although any hole that might appear around the spine can often be surgically closed up after birth, serious nerve damage has often already been caused and can cause paralysis.

Damage to the spine can also lead to hydrocephalus where there is an excessive build-up of fluid in the head. If untreated it can cause brain damage.

About 900 babies in the UK each year are affected by neural tube defects, but ASBAH believes seven out of 10 such abnormalities could be prevented if pregnant women ensure they supply folic acid.

ASBAH trustee Lisa Cain said: 'We speak up for those individuals who could, during their early development in the womb, end up with a neural tube defect. Many of these babies will die, others will be born with spina bifida.

'While we are confident that anyone born today in the UK with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus will be supported to overcome the challenges, we also know that it would be far better if they didn't have to face those challenges in the first place.

'This is what today is all about. We are proud to be the people we are, but for the sake of a simple message, 'take Folic Acid before you become pregnant', many of us would not have had to face the lifelong challenges that we and our parents did.

'We'd have been the same people, the same babies, but born healthy.

'This is why I believe 'Go Folic!' that we are launching today is the first step on a campaign of monumental importance to this and future generations.'

Visit www.gofolic.co.uk for more on ASBAH's campaign.

Have you been through a family ordeal? Contact reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or email david.freezer@archant.co.uk