Most Read

News

Man Who Lost His Wife Just 16 Weeks After Their Wedding Describes Heartbreak Of Burying Her In Her Wedding Gown

Michael and Saima on their wedding day in August 2018 (PA Real Life/Rob Clayton Photography)

Captivated by her beauty as she turned to face him wearing a fairytale white gown, her lips forming the words, 'I do,' it was a moment Michael Herz will always remember as the most precious of his life.

Just 16 weeks later, the newlywed was gazing at his beautiful bride once again, her long dark hair caressing the white silk of the dress that had so perfectly suited her willowy curves on their wedding day.

But this was no blessing service, or renewal of their vows.


Michael and Saima (PA Real Life/Collect)

On December 18, 2018 – four months after their August wedding – Michael, 29, was saying his final goodbyes to his beloved wife Saima, 30, at her funeral.

His voice filled with emotion, he recalled: “She was buried in her wedding dress, which she'd always said she wanted to wear again one day."

Michael was still floating on a cloud of love when, in early December, Saima, a nursery manager, came down with a rotten cold and saw her GP, who advised her to rest up and take paracetamol, assuming she had a winter bug.

Saima in her wedding dress (PA Real Life/Rob Clayton Photography)

When she felt well enough to go into the nursery the next day, Michael, who now works in his family's clothing business, was relieved to see her battling through and hoped this meant she would soon be better.

Instead, a few hours later, his phone rang and one of her colleagues urged him to come and collect her, as her health had rapidly declined.

Just four days later, doctors were asking Michael and Saima's family if they could turn the machines keeping her alive off, as they could not find a heartbeat.

He said: “I gave her a kiss and told her I loved her and that I'd make her proud."

What had seemed like simple flu-like symptoms had actually been signs of encephalitis, a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain caused when the immune system attacks it in error.

So, rather than snatching his first festive kiss beneath the mistletoe as the husband of the woman he loved, Michael left the hospital wondering how he was going to see out the old year and welcome in the new as a widower.

Michael and Saima on their honeymoon in Mauritius (PA Real Life/Collect)

He said: “Saima was everything to me and now she'd gone."

When he first set eyes on Saima on their unforgettable first date in Manchester city center in September 2015, Michael knew immediately that she was all he had ever wanted in a life partner.

They even talked for so long that they accidentally missed their dinner reservations.

Date number two came just a few days later and, after that, the pair were inseparable.

Certain he had met his soulmate, Michael, who then ran a recruitment firm, proposed to Saima in September 2016, a year in to the relationship.

“It may have seemed quick, but there was no doubt in my mind I had found my soulmate," he said. “Saima was my best friend. She was so elegant – the softest, nicest person you could ever meet."

Michael and Saima in Thailand after they got engaged (PA Real Life/Collect)

He continued: “We loved traveling, going out to restaurants, seeing our circle of friends – just enjoying and building our life together.

“So, after a year together, I took her to Thailand on a surprise holiday. We had a private beach with our own photographer, and that's where I proposed with a ring I had designed myself."

Committing to spend his life with someone was something Michael had feared he would never be able to do, because of past tragedies which had left their inevitable scars.

Michael and Saima in Thailand, where they got engaged in 2016 (PA Real Life/Collect)

In December 2002, when he was only 12, his mom Jane, 37, and brother Ben, nine, were killed in a car crash when the family were on vacation in South Africa. Michael and his dad Adam were also in the car but survived.

Michael explained: “Growing up, I had been unsure about relationships and letting somebody in. With what happened to my mum and brother, I was scared to lose another person – but when I met Saima, I fell in love.

“We were proper sweethearts, doing everything together. She was such a compassionate, beautiful woman, and if one good thing can come out of this horrendous situation then it's to raise that awareness of encephalitis and help other families."

Michael and Saima (PA Real Life/Collect)

Like many modern romances, their relationship began online on Plenty of Fish, a dating website, in 2015.

Michael recalled: “We met when I was 25, and she was 27. At first, she was hesitant, as I was younger than her, and she wanted somebody settled and mature.

“But we chatted anyway and she soon saw that I am an independent person. With what happened to me, I grew up quickly, and have always been a grafter and hard worker. We spoke online for three months before we finally met in person. As soon as I saw her in real life, I fell in love."

Michael and Saima on their wedding day in August 2018 (PA Real Life/Rob Clayton Photography)

Just under two years later on 26 August 2018, Michael and Saima got married at Victoria Warehouse, a converted textile mill in Manchester, in front of around 150 guests.

Michael said: “I absolutely bawled my eyes out when I saw Saima in her dress. She looked beautiful.

“We got married under a canopy made from my mum's wedding dress, so that was really special."

Symptoms of encephalitis

  • Infectious encephalitis usually begins with a 'flu-like illness' or headache.
  • Other symptoms include a high temperature, seizures, aversion to bright lights, inability to speak or control movement, sensory changes, neck stiffness or uncharacteristic behavior.
  • Autoimmune encephalitis often has a longer onset.
  • Symptoms will vary depending on the type of encephalitis related antibody but may include: confusion, altered personality or behavior, psychosis, movement disorders, seizures, hallucinations, memory loss, or sleep disturbances.

A fabulous two-week honeymoon in idyllic Mauritius followed, after which Michael and Saima were looking forward to a long and happy life as husband and wife.

But they were just four months in when, in early December, she began to feel unwell with the cold-like symptoms that turned out to be encephalitis.

Remembering the call he received from Saima's colleague, asking him to come to the nursery immediately to pick her up, Michael said: “I only worked around a mile-and-a-half away, so I raced right over to get her. She hardly recognized me, and she was struggling to walk, to the point where I had to pick her up and take her to the car."

Michael and Saima in Rome (PA Real Life/Collect)

He continued: “When we got to A&E at Stepping Hill Hospital, she collapsed and started to have seizures. At that point, I knew it was something really bad.

“I told her that I loved her and begged her to stay awake – but then her eyes rolled back and she stopped responding. At that point, I just fell to my knees, crying in the middle of the hospital."

Doctors placed Saima in an induced coma, so they could run tests and work out what was causing her seizures.

Michael and Saima at their engagement party (PA Real Life/flixnpix.co.uk)

Then a scan revealed that her brain was swollen, which led to an official diagnosis of encephalitis – one of 6,000 reported cases in the UK every year.

According to the charity Encephalitis Society, the condition occurs either when an infection invades the brain, or when the immune system attacks it in error, with symptoms including headaches, neck stiffness, drowsiness, confusion, altered personality, hallucinations and memory loss.

In Saima's case, Michael said doctors did all they could, pumping her full of various different types of drugs and working tirelessly for four days to save her. But on December 17, it became clear that there was nothing more that could be done.

“Everyone did everything they could, but after four days, during which time they took lots of advice from encephalitis specialists, the medical team told us that her brain and many of her organs weren't functioning," he said.

“Her heart was only beating because she was hooked up to a machine. If they turned it off, she'd have very little chance. When she was in hospital, I remember praying, saying to God, 'If she survives but has no quality of life, please take her.'

“Saima was so strong and elegant and never asked anybody for anything. I knew she would have hated being in a vegetative state, having me as her round-the-clock carer. In the end we agreed with the doctors to let her go, and so her family and I gathered around her bedside and the machine was turned off."

Michael and Saima at their engagement party (PA Real Life/flixnpix.co.uk)

Keeping the tradition of their Jewish faith, she was buried the next day – 16 weeks after their August wedding.

In the wake of Saima's untimely death, Michael has worked tirelessly to raise money for the Encephalitis Society, hoping that more research will one day lead to better treatments and a greater chance of surviving the cruel condition.

And next April, he will take on an epic three-day feat, cycling more than 200 miles from his wedding venue to London's Buckingham Palace, flanked by around 30 other riders, many of whom knew Saima and want to help promote her legacy.

Michael and Saima on their wedding day in August 2018 (PA Real Life/Rob Clayton Photography)

“I needed to do something to turn this horrendous tragedy into a potential positive for other people," said Michael. “Even those that survive encephalitis can be left with horrible side effects. More research will mean that people like Saima don't just disappear. It's such a dangerous condition as it's not like it's caused by any one thing you can avoid doing. In Saima's case, doctors don't even know what triggered it.

“I want to raise as much money as possible so we one day have better drugs and treatments to fight this. And I decided to end up at Buckingham Palace, because I wanted somewhere literally fit for a queen, as that's what Saima was to me.

“Everybody that met her, loved her. She didn't have a bad bone in her body, and I know I will never meet anybody else like her."

For further information, visit and www.encephalitis.info and www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michael-herz