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'It's very hard to relate with anybody': Leinster's Hayden Triggs on the loss of his daughter

The Kiwi second row has spoken about the devastation of losing his young child and how it is now the driving force behind his every performance.

Triggs spoke to the media yesterday.
Triggs spoke to the media yesterday.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

HEARTBREAKING IS A word often used in sport. A heartbreaking defeat. A heartbreaking moment. Watching Hayden Triggs sit at the top of a room describing the moment his three-week old daughter died in his arms is heartbreaking. The true meaning of the word. It puts everything in perspective; sport, rugby and life.

What makes it all the more incomprehensible is that Triggs, Leinster’s Kiwi second row, is arguably enjoying the best rugby of his time in Ireland. He was colossal in the province’s back-to-back victories over Northampton; and all this during a time of unspeakable family heartache.

Monday of Christmas week, and nobody could have quite expected the raw honesty and candidness that was to come during Triggs’ appearance at the province’s weekly media briefing.

It’s the first time he’s spoken since he and his wife, Mikala, suffered the devastation of losing their daughter, Stella, on 30 September 2016. She was born premature after just 25 weeks and passed away three weeks later at Holles Street Hospital.

Triggs, who has two other young children (August and Adelaide), is learning to come to terms with the sense of loss and the heartache which intruded on his life a few short months ago. Part of that process has involved opening up and letting the world in.

“It was a massive challenge and still is every day,” he says.

Hayden Triggs Triggs has played four times since his daughter's passing and says she has given him more motivation. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“In saying that you never want to wish anybody to lose a child. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. It is definitely something new in my family and the people closest to me at the club probably haven’t had to deal with it. It’s very hard to relate with anybody on speaking terms. To lose a daughter in the fashion we did was a massive sadness and probably one that won’t go away any time soon.

“On the flip side it’s motivation. It’s a great learning. The more we’ve spoken with other people it’s not as uncommon as we thought. We are not the only people in the world let alone Dublin, let alone Leinster to go through it.

“We found the people who have experienced stuff like they have put their hand up to say if we ever need a chat…it’s a massive learning. I have got two young children at the moment and appreciation is a word you could use for them.

“A challenge every day is to try and do best by Stella and what she wanted her day to do.”

Shortly before Leinster’s Guinness Pro12 interpro fixture against Munster on Saturday 8 October, a message was circulated to media advising that there would be a minute’s silence before the game in memory of Stella Triggs.

It was the first anyone had heard of the tragic events in Triggs’ personal life, a decision he and his wife had made during those heart-rending days visiting their young daughter in hospital.

“It was kept quiet because it was what we wanted,” he continued.

“What happened was Stella was born premature at 24 and a bit weeks. As any mother and father would know 24 weeks is kind of the cut off. Any earlier is considered a still-born. But she was 24 weeks and five six days. She was born out of the blue.

“My wife had some pains in her stomach. I was meant to go to Mary’s training to do a bit of coaching that night. She was moaning more than usual so I said maybe I shouldn’t go. We’ll take you to the doctor. We went to the doctor and within 40 minutes Stella had been born.

The teams observe a minutes silence Leinster and Munster observe a minute's silence in memory of Stella Triggs before their clash at the Aviva Stadium in October. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Luckily for us we were in Dublin close to Holles Street Hospital. She was straight into the best care, the best doctors, the best nurses, the best facilities in Ireland so we are very thankful for that.

“For three weeks she was, how can I put it, assisted in breathing. She got through a lot. There were tests every day, every week. She had problems with her heart, her lungs were struggling. It was kidneys. It was a new thing every day. Lungs one week then it was the heart valve closing.

“Then it was the kidneys failing. It was just a massive fight for her every day.

“On the third week – every Monday she had a brain scan – the third Monday her brain because of all the issues with the heart the blood flow, the oxygen that the brain just couldn’t survive this massive trauma.

“She was getting absolutely no living functions. She was going to be just kept alive by machines.”

Holding back the tears, Triggs continued: “As parents me and my wife…it was going to be a struggle for her to survive daily so with the help of the doctors she was taken off all the assistance. She passed away peacefully in our arms. It was a nice time for us to be with her. She lasted about four hours off the machines. That three weeks she was alive, those last three hours were the most peaceful she had ever been.

“Strength. Resilience. Character. Three weeks, something so small just being in the palm of my hand was able to show these qualities. Sometimes people don’t realise they have it. At the time we didn’t know as a family, as parents what we had in us and then for this little thing to be doing it every day was a massive lesson for me.”

Rugby has given him an outlet during these difficult times and the support he and his family have received from team-mates, the club and fans has been a great source of strength.

“Once we knew Stella was in the best capable hands in Holles Street what do you do?” he said.

Jamison Gibson-Park and Hayden Triggs after the game Triggs and Jamison-Gibson Park following Leinster's win over Northampton last weekend. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“Do you sit there worrying giving negative energy about what the hell is going to happen right beside her intensive care unit? Do you sit there giving out negative energy or do you spend the time up there?

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“We still have two young kids at school. Me and my wife we had each other but what do you do? For me it was come back to training, give my best effort to the club but also when I could get back up to the hospital. But as I’ve said we’ve two young kids though they felt the grief and the pain and kind of understood what was happening we couldn’t forget them either.”

Triggs, who signed a one-year contract extension with Leinster in May, admits he never considered returning home to be closer to family and friends.

“Between the Leinster club, the players, the management, the front office, their support and the support we got from our kids’ school…they kind of had an inkling of what was going on. The support we got from Our Lady’s Grove was immense and very humbling.

“She was in the best possible place in Ireland. Better than New Zealand if I can say that. She was in the exact place she needed to be so after she passed away there’s no place we’d rather be other than being among our families. This is the place we wanted to be.”

Triggs played the full 80 minutes of Leinster’s emphatic Champions Cup win over the Saints at the weekend and has now established himself as Leo Cullen’s first-choice second row alongside Devin Toner.

With a visit to Thomond Park on St Stephen’s Day next on the agenda, it will be an incredibly poignant fixture for Triggs and his family.

Three short months ago, the first meeting of the provincial rivals was preceded by a tribute to his daughter taken too soon. On Monday, he will be back on the field playing in her honour, with a new sense of perspective and motivation.

“I’m dealing with it as best as I can now,” he adds.

“We have a very strong family me and my wife, my wife’s mum we are a tight bunch. We have been around the world together so…we still talk about Stella every day. My young boy is 5. He still talks about her all the time. So she’s not gone from life. She’s here somewhere.

“For me at the moment playing rugby, she is the biggest motivation.”

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