A doctor who died from a rare brain tumour wrote two children's books for his three-year-old son as a final heartbreaking gift.
Paediatrician Aria Nikjooy, from Manchester, was just 27 when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in November 2018.
Despite having the tumour removed, the cancer returned several times before spreading to his spine.
He died on February 8 this year, aged just 30.
While undergoing chemotherapy in 2019, he wrote a book called Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone to explain illness in parents to his toddler son, Eliyas, now three.
The book was published last September and Aria was able to read it aloud to Eliyas - a bittersweet moment for him and his GP registrar wife Naomi, 33.
He has another children's book due to be released soon, called Eddie and the Last Dodo on Earth, about the importance of family.
Naomi said: "I am so proud of Aria. Lots of people dream of writing books and always talk about it but never get round to it.
"He was in the worst state he could possibly be in, but he was still motivated to write books for our son.
"When I read his second children’s book, I cried - it was so beautiful.
"It will be emotional reading it to Eliyas without Aria here, but I’ll be doing it for him."
Having met in 2012 at the University of Birmingham, where both Aria and Naomi studied medicine, the pair married in 2016.
They moved to Manchester in 2017 just before Eliyas was born that July.
Aria was working night shifts as a paediatric doctor on the neonatal ward at Saint Mary’s Hospital in the city when he started suffering from terrible headaches.
He put these down to the pressures of his job, coupled with the stress of Eliyas, aged one, being admitted to hospital overnight with an infection in September 2018.
But at the beginning of November 2018, his headaches became so severe he had to go home during a shift.
Naomi said: "Aria told me he was calling a nurse over when he began to slur his words.
"Suddenly I knew that wasn't right and I said 'you need to go to a GP'."
She continued: "But that night he was so poorly I took him to the hospital the next day and he had the scan, and hours later the doctor called us back in to talk.
"As we were both doctors, we knew what that meant - but we did not say it out loud to each other."
They were told there was a 'suspicious mass' on Aria's brain which they took a sample of for tests.
Naomi said: "No amount of medical training could prepare either of us for that news. It was just pure shock."
The couple were determined to protect their little son.
"We did a good job of shielding Eliyas from it," Naomi said.
"We just tried to pretend everything was normal - smiling, playing, knowing that Aria was about to have an operation.
"He didn't know at that stage anything was wrong."
Aria had the large tumour on his cerebellum removed on November 9 – the day before his birthday – in a seven-hour operation at the Salford Royal Hospital.
During the operation, and with Eliyas in nursery, Naomi and their family were gathered anxiously in the patient waiting room.
Naomi recalled: "The neurosurgeon, Mr Pietro d’Urso, was absolutely incredible but it was still the longest wait of our lives.
"It felt like days."
To her relief, when the surgeon came out he told them he removed all of the cancer.
For the next three months, Aria was sick every day and lacked any balance because of where the tumour had been in his brain.
With Eliyas unable to visit Aria in hospital because he was too unwell, he began asking his mum 'where his daddy was'. For Aria, it was an ordeal not being able to see his son.
Naomi said: "I felt so terrible seeing Aria like that. He kept telling me his main aims were to get back home to me and Eliyas, and to get back to work - the place he absolutely loved."
He had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat and write, so after being discharged from hospital in early 2019, Aria decided to pen a children’s book for his son Eliyas, now three, to recover his writing skills.
Written at home as Aria was undergoing four rounds of chemotherapy, while Eliyas was at nursery and Naomi at work, Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone tells the story of a lion and dinosaur’s magical adventures and explains the concept of sickness in a parent.
Naomi said: "We were in the waiting room for one of his appointments when Aria told me he had started to write a book for Eliyas, and that he wanted to read it to him to explain about parents getting poorly.
"Aria knew that one day we would have to explain cancer to Eliyas and this would make it a lot easier.
"I thought it was such a great idea so I encouraged him to do it. I knew Eliyas would love it.”
She added: "Aria had such a wild imagination - he'd describe it as a very childish mind. I guess that's why he did paediatrics, because he could relate to children."
In November 2019, a year after his diagnosis, Aria was finally able to return to work, on the paediatric rheumatology ward at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
But after four months, this fragile normality was snatched away from him and his family when the cancer returned in March 2020 – days before the first lockdown began.
Naomi said: "He was finally feeling himself again when he got the news following a routine check-up. It was so cruel.
"After a cancer diagnosis you always have in the back of your mind 'what if it comes back?'. But Aria was such a positive soul and was determined to not even consider that possibility.
"He was talking about when he wanted to be a consultant, and how many books he wanted to write. But it wasn't meant to be."
Due to the pandemic, Naomi had to drop Aria at the front door of the hospital for his second operation on March 29 to remove the tumour - which she described as 'incredibly hard'.
Aria recovered much better from the operation this time, so was able to carry on shielding Eliyas from the harsh realities of cancer.
But the cancer returned and he was booked in for further surgery on July 31, just five days after Eliyas' third birthday.
Aria's recovery times from the operations became shorter and shorter, to the extent he was back home the day after his third op.
But Naomi said: "Because Eliyas was just 16 months old when we got Aria’s cancer diagnosis, we had managed to shield him from what was going on for quite a long time.
"But by the second and third operations, we started to talk about daddy being poorly because he was seeing him vomiting and sleeping during the day when he wouldn’t normally.
"He showed quite a lot of concern, but at that age his understanding of being ill was quite limited - he thought you could just have a spoonful of medicine and you would be okay."
After approaching 'thousands of publishers', Aria's determination was rewarded when The Endless Bookcase agreed to publish Eddie and the Magic Healing Stone, which came out in September.
And sitting on the sofa together in the living room, with Eliyas cuddled up in his lap, Aria finally fulfilled his goal.
Naomi recalled: "It was very emotional, watching him reading the book to our son.
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"Eliyas absolutely loved it, and although he wasn't saying many words at that point he loved roaring along when the characters roared.
"His nursery brought all the characters to life and acted out the book, and he is so proud of telling everyone there that his daddy wrote it. They still read it there to this day."
In early December, the family received the devastating news that the cancer had returned and spread through Aria’s spine.
He was put on a tumour-specific drug to slow down the cancer's growth but was not offered any more surgery.
Naomi said: "Prior to that, he had been talking about going back to work in January."
Aria was able to stay at home and his parents and brother self-isolated for two weeks before seeing him on December 25.
Naomi said: "Aria did tell me he thought it would be his last Christmas, but we just tried to have as normal a Christmas as possible and it was a really nice day.
"He loved watching Eliyas unwrap his presents."
Afterwards, Aria's health deteriorated quickly and he died aged 30 on February 8, 2021 at home.
Since his death, Naomi said, reading the books to Eliyas had been a huge support in helping him understand what has happened.
She has been keeping busy organising the publication of Aria's memoir Broken Brain: Brutally Honest, Brutally Me, aimed at adults, which she hopes will give strength to others affected by cancer and could be used as a manual for doctors to help them understand what it is like to be an NHS patient.
During the first lockdown, Aria also surprised Naomi by telling her he had written another children’s book for Eliyas – Eddie and the Last Dodo on Earth – which is about 'the importance of family and believing in yourself, knowing your family will always be there for you, no matter what happens', Naomi explained.
Eliyas does not know the book exists yet and it will be one final surprise from his dad when it comes out soon. And this time, Naomi will be the one to read him the story.
Naomi said: "After losing my husband, having this positive focus on Aria's books has helped keep me going. If I know I'm getting Aria's words out there, I'm happy."
Proceeds from all of Aria’s children's books will be going to four organisations that supported him and his family – Brain Tumour Research, the Royal Medical Foundation, the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund and the Society For Assistance Of Medical Families.
Naomi, Aria and Eliyas will also be among the faces of Brain Tumour Research's Wear a Hat Day, which takes place on March 26 to raise money for crucial research.