She defied the odds countless times surviving radical surgeries, life-threatening infections, two holes in her heart and even Covid.
But this time it wasn’t meant to be.
For 24-year-old Sammy Ho, known for her enduring bravery and perpetual smile lost her fight for life in the early hours of last Monday morning.
Unexpected twin girls joy
Sammy Ho and her twin sister Natalie were born on November 1, 1996.
Just seven months into her pregnancy mum, Irene, and dad Steve, of Barbour Brae, Bridge of Don, were told the girls were different sizes.
Already a surprise pregnancy, Irene, who had two older children at the time, Steve and Kimberley, 13 and 10, had a feeling something was wrong.
“I had assumed all the way through that the small baby was the one who would be needing extra help. The way they spoke throughout the pregnancy prepared me for that.
“But when the girls came they handed me the wee one – Natalie – who was just two pounds – and whisked Sammy away. I wasn’t allowed to see her.”
A few days later – although they couldn’t be certain – they suggested a single crease in Sammy’s tiny hand indicated she had Down Syndrome.
Not one, but two holes in her heart
Soon after Sammy’s colouring changed and medics became concerned by her blueish skin and lips.
Initially, the family were told she had a very small – common – hole in her heart that may repair itself, but if not a routine surgery could take place.
But the start of Sammy’s battle for health was about to begin.
“I would look at Nat and she was doing so well and Sammy would be all puffed up and covered in tubes, full of medicine,” Irene said.
“A specialist broke the news to me that there wasn’t just one tiny hole, there was a second massive hole. So big it was like her heart was split in two. It had been hidden beneath her swollen lungs.”
On assessing the dire heart issues Steve and Irene would encounter their first ‘talk’ where doctors would suggest nothing more could be done.
“They said ‘just take her home and enjoy her.’ And I thought, but how? She’s covered in tubes! But they said ‘there’s nothing we can do.’
Sammy came home in an ambulance and it wasn’t until an infection some time later that the family were told an operation may be possible.
A glimmer of hope
Weighing just eight pounds by eight months old a different consultant in Edinburgh felt she was a candidate for surgery.
The couple were torn at the prospect of having to put their baby through such an invasive procedure when they had been told previously she likely wouldn’t survive.
In tears Irene asked an horrific question for any parent.
“Steve couldn’t even speak and so I piped up, ‘how long will I have her if she doesn’t have this surgery?’ I was just so scared about the choice we were making.”
But the choice was removed from them when the consultant replied, ‘two weeks’
“We knew we had to try.”
Crying in the rain
The operation was scheduled to take around 25-26 hours and the couple dealt with the rollercoaster of hope and grief differently.
Irene wanted to stay in the Edinburgh hospital corridor.
Steve couldn’t bear it.
In a fleeting break from her vigil, Irene joined Steve just walking around outside in the rain.
“I remember with it pouring down I could let myself cry and that no-one would see me. Crying felt like a betrayal. Like I didn’t think she’d come through.”
As would become a Sammy Ho tradition – she pulled through.
Both holes were repaired but the patch, they were told, wouldn’t last forever.
Elated at the prospect of no more heart surgeries for five years, finally, after nine months Sammy was allowed to come home to Aberdeen.
“I was so joyful,” said Irene. “She was transferred to Aberdeen and I took the opportunity to go home and see my family. Then we got another call.”
Unexpectedly her lung had collapsed.
The news on her lung was followed by another crushing “there’s really nothing we can do.”
“But then it happened again. She turned a corner.”
Getting better all the time, Sammy would eventually need a feeding tube.
And at five she was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
This meant that as Sammy grew the tendons in her legs would become painfully tight.
The only solution was annual surgery to cut the tendons which saw her in plaster casts for weeks at a time.
But even that couldn’t stop her smiling.
Sammy’s twin sister Natalie said: “She was the happiest girl you could ever meet. With the cheekiest smile. You could not wipe the smile off her face.
“And an absolute flirt – she could charm anyone she met.”
Finding her voice
Sammy began speaking when she was five.
And in finding her voice the Hos found their little girl had a heart of gold.
“I’d say ‘how are you Sammy?’ and she’d reply, ‘Good, and how about you?’ She always cared about everyone else.”
While Sammy could get around with the aid of a walker she couldn’t walk on her own.
Physio and examinations would follow and another setback would be revealed.
Irene explained: “We eventually found out she had nothing protecting her spine and her neck could break at any minute. By 11 her neck was disintegrating.
“After all the usual discussions an adult consultant felt he could successfully operate. It felt like good news but she soon ended up in a coma. And I was back in a room with a box of tissues on the table.”
The operation to fortify her back resulted in the titanium implant somehow splitting in two places.
This meant Sammy had to undergo harrowing treatment in Glasgow to stretch her spinal cord, all the while metal was pressing into her spine.
An angel with a halo
“She lay down screaming, with weights over her neck. It was so unlike her and we couldn’t bear it. When they said they could perform radical surgery I knew we had to try.”
The plan was to screw a head brace – called a halo – onto her fragile frame.
And once again, she miraculously beat the odds.
When her angelic smile returned almost immediately, the family could breathe a sigh of relief.
Finding a rare moment to relax was almost impossible for Steve and Irene – until the family found comfort in Kinross children’s hospice, Rachel House.
“I had refused to think about it. It felt like I was suggesting she was dying,” said Irene.
“But Sammy loved it,” added Natalie. “It was a place so full of fun and life. She always wanted to bake or be in the art room. It wasn’t what we expected at all.
“We are really grateful that a place like that existed. It made her so happy.”
But during one of their stays in Rachel House Sammy became ill.
A rapid deterioration resulted in four months on life support battling sepsis.
But the whole time Sammy had her little white toy cat, Bobby, in her grip.
Natalie said: “She loved that little toy and insisted on always having it with her. So we were insistent on the nurses making sure it didn’t get lost. But one day when the bed was changed he went missing.
“We had to source one online and get it back in her hand before she woke up.”
And when she did she had a surprise for the family.
“She said, ‘new Bobby’ and as time went on the more she said the more we thought, ‘she’s heard us that whole time,'” said Irene.
School saved her
When she eventually left hospital she was discharged home and just lay on the couch for days.
Mum knew she had to take action.
“I just felt that if I didn’t do something she would just lie there and die. So I organised for her to go to school and see her friends.”
Previously a pupil of Hazlewood School in Aberdeen, Sammy moved on to Woodlands.
“It was like a miracle. I had palliative nurses come to the door for end-of-life care and once again Sammy surprised them by being in her element.”
Covid at Christmas
Although the last two years have seen Sammy battle through dozens of ups and downs Irene believes the family all catching Covid around Christmastime impacted her daughter gravely.
“She’s not really been right since but she beat Covid which easily might not have been the case.
“She’s just had more and more lung issues which got worse at the end of last week.”
Following 10 days of antibiotics and what looked like a turn for the better Sammy became critically ill last Sunday.
Hug me Steve
Normally when Sammy became ill she would be quiet and refuse affection.
But on this occasion, she asked for her big brother, Steve.
“For years Steve has been a bit wounded whenever she would say ‘are you not away home’ when he’s visited her if she wasn’t well. But this time it was different.”
As her older brother approached his baby sister she asked for a hug and told him she loved him.
The family knew this time that the doctor’s warning that they had reached the end of the line was correct.
The family were with Sammy until her final moments, bar a break for less than an hour while Natalie went home to check on her baby boy, Frankie.
Irene said: “My husband Steve used to be cynical about the stories you hear of twins having some kind of weird connection. Until he saw our girls.
“If Sammy was in hospital, Nat would be screaming outside.”
One time – desperate for an improvement in Sammy’s condition an intensive care nurse asked Irene to bring baby Natalie in to see her sister.
“I was worried because previously she had pulled one of Sammy’s tubes out. But this day, her sister was covered from head to toe in wires and tubes, she climbed on the bed, lay on top of her sister and said ‘ahhh my baby.’
“Every person in there was crying.”
Wait for twinny
While Natalie briefly went home Sammy worsened and a call beckoned her twin back to the hospital.
Before she got there the machines alerted the family to her heart failing.
Doctors offered a look to communicate that Sammy had died.
For a minute-and-a-half she was unresponsive having exhaled at length.
Then Natalie arrived.
With mum Irene whispering in her ear begging her to stay with them, suddenly a different signal sounded and her vital signs improved.
Irene said: “All the time I had been saying to her, ‘stay with us… wait for your family… wait for Kimberley… wait for Steve, and in those moments when I looked over I said ‘come one Sammy, wait for your twinny. And she did.”
With her soul mate Natalie beside her Sammy Ho breathed her last breath at 12.05am as the clock ticked into Monday, July 19.
Devastated by her passing, Steve was unable to talk about his daughter and mum confided that this conversation felt wrong.
“All through the years, we haven’t once spoken about her death, and certainly not about a funeral. I can’t believe what I’m saying to you.
“I’ve been by her side every day for 24 years. But the last thing I did was tell her to just close her eyes and have a wee sleepy. It was time for her to finally rest.”
Sammy will be cremated wearing the Ted Baker dress she wore to her brother’s wedding, holding toy cat Bobby.
Her favourite music by Adele and from the Greatest Showman will be playing.
Natalie plans to speak at the funeral, which will take place on Thursday at 1pm in the West Chapel of Hazlehead Crematorium.
“It’s the one final thing I can do for her. I’ve lost my other half.”
Sammy is survived by her parents, grandmother Annie, brother Steve and his wife Lucie and their son Sebastian, sister Kimberley and her partner Mark, and Natalie and her son Frankie.