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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
JJ Donoghue

Former Bristol City manager Dean Holden opens up on tragic death of two-year-old daughter

Former Bristol City manager Dean Holden has opened up on the pain that he and his wife endured after their 17-month-old daughter died while they were on holiday in Lanzarote.

Holden and his wife, television presenter Danielle Nicholls, faced heartbreaking tragedy when their infant daughter Cici died suddenly abroad in 2012.

They arrived on the Canary Island after a nine hour delay to their flight, and although they immediately knew that Cici was not quite right, they put it down to exhaustion from the journey.

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"It had all been a bit of a perfect storm for us because we'd travelled on the plane," former CITV presenter Danielle told the Manchester Evening News.

"She was exhausted and really lethargic, but we put that down to her being 17 months and that we'd been travelling all that time.

"We woke up once with her in the night and she was a little bit warm. We gave her a bit of Calpol, changed her nappy and put her back in bed.

"But by the time we got up the next morning we knew she wasn't right."

They gave her some water but her condition became worse very quickly, and she was rushed to a clinic on the island.

A helicopter was waiting there to take her to the nearest intensive care unit - but within three hours, Cici had died.

She had suffered meningococcal septicaemia, a bacterial infection which causes blood poisoning, leading to sepsis.

Dean Holden during his time as Bristol City head coach (Rogan/JMP)

"That's what's scary for people I think - how quickly it can develop," said Danielle. "She was our most laid back, chilled out kid.

"She had bright red hair and blue eyes, and she was dead unique looking - she looked like something out of the olden days because I used to dress her up in frills and that.

"I'd waited ages to have my little girl."

The couple have now opened up about the trauma that they faced after Cici's death on May 21, 2012.

Danielle cradled her for two hours after she passed away, and they then had to make arrangements to fly their dead daughter home, despite reluctance from airlines who feared it would 'upset other passengers'.

The couple returned to the villa where their two sons Joey and Ellis had been staying with the presenter's sister Jodie and Dean's brother Matt, and they had to break the awful news.

Danielle said: "She'd never, ever left my side, she hadn't even stayed at grandma's.

"It felt like I was in a horror movie. I can't be scared by a horror movie anymore because my actual life was that frightening.

"To hold your dead kid in your arms for two hours when she had died, just because I couldn't let go of her."

While Dean, who left Bristol City in 2021, added: "I can't remember the first days and weeks after she died because you're just in some kind of trance."

"The biggest thing is your personality just completely changes overnight - and then you start behaving in a way you never have before.

"That's hard because people start saying 'oh you're not the person you used to be' and you start fighting against it. You're in your own head all the time."

After returning home to Greater Manchester, the couple sometimes struggled as they spoke to others and relived the death of their daughter.

The couple say some people were 'abrupt' to them and would ask why they didn't act differently when Cici was ill, while others would cross the road to avoid speaking to them.

They began going to therapy, including group therapy and hypnotherapy, and also began using coping mechanisms like meditation and exercise to deal with the pain, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) took hold.

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They also found comfort in a support group for bereaved parents where they shared their experiences with other couples with similar experiences.

Dean was supported by the Professional Footballers' Association, who helped him to see a psychotherapist.

He said: "I'd been to see counsellors, and it was useless, so I went to see a psychotherapist and learned how the brain works post-trauma.

"I'd be screwed without that, because I needed to understand why I'd gone from being this chilled out bloke to all of a sudden this raging lunatic."

Danielle, Joey and Ellis, meanwhile, were supported by the charity Meningitis Now, which gave the boys art therapy and anger management sessions, while Danielle also had therapy.

Since Cici's death, Dean and Danielle have gone on to have two more children, and she is always in the family's minds, with photos of her put up in their home as well as in a bracelet on Danielle's wrist.

Dean said: "If there was a drug to erase Cici out of our memory - we would have lost 17 months of incredible memories, but they were outweighed by the pain.

"As you get through the therapy, that changes - now there's no way we'd ever want to forget her because we can manage the pain.

"We talk about Cici so much, there's a massive picture of her at the top of the stairs. People will ask how many kids we have got, and it's a conversation wrecker but we don't know any other way to address it, we'll say we've had five but we've only got four.

"Then they feel horrible for asking, but if we just say we've got four we might as well just brush her out of our life."

The couple still use techniques like meditation and deep breathing to help with their mental health every day, and although they still suffer from panic attacks, they feel able to stop themselves from 'spiralling'.

Dean said: "If I'm late for something, I'm going back to the day Cici died. I start shaking, I start panicking - and I'm just late, but my brain doesn't know the difference.

"We've spent a lot of time with a lot of good people, but there are ways of resetting by doing strategies - tapping, cold showers and whatever.

“We do all kinds of weird and wonderful things that work."

Dean and Danielle suffered yet more loss after Cici's death, with five miscarriages in the years between their fourth and fifth children Mitzi and Chase being born.

Covid brought added strain when lockdown took away some of their coping mechanisms, while Dean's work at Bristol City kept him away from home.

But the couple are looking forward to a bright future with their careers, with Dean being closer to home now in his role as assistant manager for Stoke City, while Danielle is looking to get back into TV and radio work.

The couple say they are grateful for their family and what they have after enduring so much pain.

Danielle said: "We've had so much sadness and tragedy, but it doesn't mean that we're miserable people who don't have a laugh, in fact quite the opposite."

BRISTOL CITY CENTRE: To keep up to date with latest Bristol news, and discuss thoughts with other residents, join our Bristol City Centre community group on Facebook here. You can also sign up to Bristol Buzz, our brand new newsletter for the city centre, here.

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