- New unauthorised biography recalls death of David Cameron’s son Ivan
- The diagnosis of disabled six-year-old son hit Cameron ‘like a freight train’
- Ivan, who was born with cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, died in 2009
The birth of Ivan is crucial to the Prime Minister’s story. Before his arrival, Cameron had known little real suffering. Blessed with a loving family, a fine mind, an interesting job, good health, good looks and a beautiful wife, he had enjoyed every advantage in life.
He was thriving at Westminster and had a fabulous social network, including a tight-knit group of exceptionally close friends.
Suddenly, in 2002, the young MP was the father of a child so profoundly disabled he would need 24-hour care for life. The ramifications — emotional, practical, professional, financial — were enormous. In Cameron’s own words, the shock hit him ‘like a freight train’.
Life would never be the same. Yet, the Camerons proved remarkably resilient. While many marriages collapse under the strain of raising a disabled child, friends say they were determined not to let their new circumstances ruin their lives.
Cameron has recalled a sort of epiphany a few days after Ivan’s diagnosis, when he realised he and Samantha were ‘going to get through this’.
‘If we can’t do a good job and look after him, then we have failed,’ he thought to himself. In the months and years that followed, he lived up to that private pledge. Friends were deeply moved by the way the couple ‘just dealt with it’.
Managing Ivan’s condition was an intensive process. There were endless medications to administer — as many as 20 different drugs a day — and regular emergencies relating to infections, seizures and fluctuations in his blood pressure.
The delicate daily routine of sleeps, feeds, medications and therapeutic exercises could be thrown into chaos at any moment if he had one of his seizures or caught an infection. Pneumonia was a frequent problem.
Doctors encouraged them to get help. Luckily they could afford it, so they started hiring night nurses to give them some sleep. Cameron says they knew their own limitations and decided not to be martyrs.
‘The parents of disabled children are not necessarily angels,’ he said. ‘They didn’t ask for this to happen. And you mustn’t pretend to be an angel, because if you do you’ll exhaust yourself or your marriage will break down or your other kids will suffer.
‘You have to try to be who you are. I’m not an angel and neither is Samantha. We’re good parents, and we do our best, but we need lots of help, we need lots of breaks.’
Yet the couple in no sense ‘contracted out’ Ivan’s care. Though they had a rota of carers, they were both hands-on, sharing the load at weekends and when Ivan needed to be rushed to hospital.
Cameron spent countless nights dossing down on makeshift beds on wards, somehow finding the energy to haul himself back to the Commons in the morning.