Scanning through the dating profiles, I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across Rida Fatima, 24.
‘She’s beautiful,’ I thought to myself, flicking through her photos.
It was love at first sight – I knew I’d found the one.
In September 2018 I joined a dating site for single Muslims in a bid to find a wife.
I come from a very traditional Muslim family and I knew I was ready to settle down and start a family of my own.
I had been searching for a couple of years, but Rida caught my attention straight away.
I nervously sent her a message and couldn’t believe my luck when she replied instantly.
‘Lovely to meet you,’ her message read.
The two of us hit it off instantly and we had so much in common.
She was intelligent, funny, charming – everything I could have hoped for.
At the time I was living in Walsall, West Midlands, working as a rental advisor at a car hire company in near Birmingham airport.
Rida lived in Islamabad, Pakistan, with her parents and her siblings, and had just graduated with a degree in Clinical Psychology.
Despite the distance, we spoke most days on the phone, and would constantly message each other.
We talked about anything and everything – our lives, jobs and our families.
I could feel myself falling head over heels for her.
I couldn’t wait to be with her, but before we could make anything official my family had to meet her relatives.
It’s a traditional step in Muslim culture but it didn’t make the process any less nerve-wracking.
I went with my mum to see the family she had in the UK.
‘Nice to meet you,’ I said, giving her brother, Ali, who was in his 40s, a firm handshake.
I was anxious, but her brother and sister-in-law were incredibly welcoming.
Having gained their approval, all that was left was to finally meet Rida.
In February 2019, I booked an eight-hour flight and arrived in Pakistan.
I felt the nerves welling in my stomach as I spotted her at the arrival gate.
‘Nice to finally meet you,’ she beamed, embracing me tightly.
My parents, who now live in the UK, had a home about a town away, so I stayed there during the trip.
We spent the next two weeks getting to know each other better and the initial awkwardness quickly vanished.
She was everything I’d gotten to know online and more – I didn’t want to waste any more time.
I bought a ring with me and waited until we went for a quiet walk alone to pop the question.
‘Will you marry me?’ I asked, dropping to one knee.
‘Yes,’ she squealed excitedly, placing the ring on her finger.
I couldn’t wait to start my life with her.
I was devastated when our time was up and I had to head back to the UK.
‘I’ll see you soon,’ I promised, kissing her goodbye at the airport.
We started planning the wedding straight away and set a date for April 2019.
I didn’t want to be away from her for a moment longer.
The ceremony was held in Rida’s hometown Islamabad, Pakistan, in a huge outdoor marquee.
I flew over with my family and friends a few days prior and we got some last minute preparation underway.
There were around 150 people attending the wedding from both sides.
To some it was a whirlwind romance, but for us the timing was perfect.
When I finally met her at the aisle, it was like all my dreams came true.
It felt like my life had been leading up to this moment.
‘You looking stunning,’ I blushed, admiring her beautiful saree.
Taking her hand, we exchanged our vows in front of 150 close family and friends.
We spent our honeymoon travelling around Pakistan and exploring the parts that neither of us had ever seen before.
We went to Khewra Region, Punjab, and visited the stunning salt mines.
We explored lots of cities including Gilgit, Pakinstan, and dined at Monal Restaurant in the Valleys of Pir Sohawa.
Unfortunately I was only over for the wedding and once again, I had to say goodbye and head back home to the UK.
I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my wife behind, but I knew it wouldn’t be forever.
‘We’ll be together soon,’ she said, waving me off at the airport once again.
Little did I know, the next time I saw her would be in a hospital bed…
When I arrived back in the UK, Rida and I started looking into a visa she could move over the UK permanently.
We got the application process underway and continued to speak with each other every day – we were told it take anywhere between three to six months.
On September 10th 2019, I called Rida to catch up, unfortunately she hadn’t been feeling well for a few days.
She had gone to the doctor complaining of a severe migraine and vomiting.
‘They think it’s food poisoning,’ she whispered weakly down the phone.
There wasn’t much they could do so she was sent home and told her to rest.
‘We’ll chat tomorrow,’ I replied, leaving her to sleep.
Less than 24 hours later, things had gone from bad to worse.
She wasn’t feeling any better and she started losing vision in her left eye.
Despite her dismissal I urged her to go and get things checked out.
Her sister drove her to Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, but the moment she stepped through the door she collapsed and had a seizure.
Suddenly, I got a panicked call from her family.
‘What happened?’ I asked, stuck in the UK and feeling helpless.
Rida had been rushed for tests and a CT revealed she had suffered two severe bleeds on the brain.
There was no time to wait and she was sent for surgery straight away.
I dropped everything and jumped on the first flight to Pakistan to be with her.
The eight-hour flight felt like a life-time, I had no idea how she was doing, or if she was even still alive.
In the meantime, Rida had undergone two life-saving surgery to try and stop the bleeding.
After the second surgery her brain was so swollen they were unable to replace her skull.
They had no choice but to remove that section and replace it in a few months time when the swelling went down.
Doctors have no idea what caused the bleeding but they caught it just in time.
At first she was in coma but by the time I arrived in Pakistan she had begun showing signs of improvement.
I arrived 17 hours after she first fell ill and I was taken straight to her bedside.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – it hit me like a train.
Her face was so swollen and I could barely recognised her.
The last time I saw her she was fine and now she was strapped to a ventilator fighting for her life.
‘If she came in any later then she may not have made it,’ the doctor explained.
I took a seat by her bedside and she recognised my voice.
‘Rida,’ I whispered, clutching her hand.
Her expression changed and she tried to open her eyes but she couldn’t.
Suddenly she grabbed me by the neck and tried to pull me closer.
It was all she could manage but it was enough to know she was still there.
Slowly but surely she started to improve.
I sat with her every day I was there, she was able to open her eyes and she was even attempting to write.
Rida slipped in and out of consciousness, one minute she was there and then next she was sleeping.
I planned to stay for nine days but I managed to extend my trip to 14 days.
I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her.
Eventually I ran out of holiday days and had to go back end of September 2019.
I’ve said goodbye to her a few times but this was definitely the hardest.
‘I’ll be with you again soon,’ I promised, kissing her goodbye.
Although it kills me to leave I need to keep working to help pay for her treatment.
She was finally discharged from intensive care after a month and then moved to a high dependency ward for six weeks.
She needed constant nursing and speech therapy.
Her medical bills were stacking up and each week I was scraping together nearly £5,000 for her treatment.
My family and I pulled together what we could and we set up a GoFundMe page and another online fundraising campaign to we raised more than £3,000 to help towards all the costs.
I can’t thank people enough for their support and for their incredibly generous donations.
It meant the world to us – everything they’ve contributed has gone to helping Rida get better.
Rida was moved onto a normal ward for six weeks, before she was finally able to go home.
Although she’s still on the road to recovery and started physiotherapy.
She doing much better – she’s more conscious, responsive and talking.
She’s got the feeling back in her legs and she’s been working on physiotherapy to try and get her slowly walking.
Getting her over here is still a bit up in the air because she’s not clear to fly.
We’re hoping she’ll be back on her feet in the next six months or so and we can talk about getting her to the UK.
After all the obstacles we’ve faced to be together, we’re finally on track to be together.
It’s the final hurdle and I’m determined to cross it together.