When 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died from a severe allergic reaction to an unlabelled Pret a Manger sandwich in 2016, her young face graced newspapers across the country and her story travelled the world. What failed to be reported at the time was that her father, Nadim, who was with her when she collapsed, had a powerful spiritual experience that ultimately led him to faith.
For most of his life, Nadim, 55, had no desire to know God and, in fact, found Christians “somewhat annoying...I just wanted to move away from them”. His daughter, however, had begun to explore Christianity at the age of twelve and, with the support of her best friend, Bethany, began attending a youth group at Everyday Church in Wimbledon. Two weeks before she died, Natasha told Bethany that she wanted to be baptised.
Natasha’s final day on earth was spent with her father and her best friend. They were looking forward to a trip to France. Bethany, who was 14 at the time, had never been abroad and Natasha was keen to show her where their family had spent many happy years holidaying. Natasha, Bethany and Nadim would fly to Nice while Natasha’s mum and brother stayed in London to host friends who were visiting from abroad.
“Because it was an early flight – the first flight out of Heathrow at 7am – we didn’t eat any breakfast before leaving the house,” explains Nadim. The girls were “buzzing” about going away together, dressed in relaxed clothes and listening to each other’s music. “We said a quick goodbye to Tanya at the drop-off and then we went into the terminal in Heathrow. We all know that when you get up earlier than normal the tummy rumbles and calls out for something, so we grabbed some food at a Pret a Manger.
“Natasha was severely allergic to milk, eggs, sesame seeds – had been all her life – and we were very careful about how we negotiated around that, especially Natasha. We had appropriate medicine; antihistamine and a couple of adrenaline auto-injectors, which is what you’d have if you had a snake bite or an allergic reaction.” The family didn’t go anywhere without those vital remedies. “We went in and looked at the sandwiches that were displayed on the shelf in the fridge cabinet. Natasha picked one out and looked at the label saying what was in it. I looked at it; it was fine. So we bought it.” They ate the sandwiches quickly and made their way to the boarding gate.
“Natasha started to feel a bit unwell with an itchy throat: that’s an allergic person’s speak for: ‘There’s something about this food that’s giving me a mild reaction.’” So she took some Piriton antihistamine and Nadim didn’t think much more about it – after all, the sandwich label didn’t mention any allergens that were a problem for his daughter, and Piriton usually did the trick.
But once the plane took off, Natasha’s condition quickly deteriorated. “Huge red welts” appeared on her stomach and her breathing became exaggerated and laboured. She was starting to panic. Nadim took her to the toilet and injected her with her EpiPen. “I thought: ‘Cor, thank God for that, it should all be fine now.’” But Natasha was still having trouble breathing. “She said: ‘Daddy, Daddy, I can’t breathe, get the second one.’” Nadim administered the second injection. “We’d somehow come to learn as a family that these are the bullets that are going to save your life, but it was not the case at all and things within minutes got much, much worse.”
Natasha’s face was swelling and she began to pass out. The flight stewards called for a doctor on board who started CPR. For the next hour and a half Nadim, the stewards and the doctor tried everything to save her life. All the while, Bethany, who was still in her seat, was praying non-stop.
A supernatural moment
By the time the flight touched down in France, Natasha had gone into multiple cardiac arrests. “I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” says Nadim. “I was saying to her: ‘Tasha, I know you can do it. Be strong. I know you win all your races at school...I knew she had strength in her, I knew she was gutsy.” But still his little girl didn’t respond.
Five paramedics stormed onto the plane – “massive guys, with big boots. She was rigged up to a defibrillator, which was showing signs of a heartbeat. Her heart came back, so the paramedics went: ‘Oh, look, this is good news’ and we all high-fived each other.” And then her heartbeat fainted again – “it just went”. So they restarted CPR. “And it came back just as a murmur...and then it went again.”
Nadim was standing over Natasha’s body and had been talking to her loudly for 90 minutes: “I had this sense that I wanted her, through her unconscious state, to know somehow that I was with her and she wasn’t alone.
“And then suddenly these five angels appeared. You can imagine that I’m not looking for this. I’m quite a lucid person, actually; I’m not someone who has funny moments as such. These five angels just appeared, and I knew they were angels because they were basically people with wings – and I had never seen that in my life before. From her head to her toes they were hovering over her, not waving their arms and flapping, they were all moving slowly, not in some frantic way; it was otherworldly.
“I would describe them as human beings, but with wings coming off their backs, more like butterfly wings, no feathers...the whole vista filled up with this very soft yellow light and they were made of yellow light as well.“I was so taken aback, and then it dawned on me what it meant...I just wouldn’t accept that, and I lifted my hand up and whooshed them away as if to say: ‘Get out of here. It’s not her time.’“
That’s when I know Natasha died because her heart, the faintness, went, and the paramedics who had been actively doing what they’d been doing for at least half an hour were completely beaten.”
Walking into the light
Natasha died on a Sunday morning and Nadim and Tanya organised for her body to be flown back to the UK in a coffin in the same plane she had arrived on. “The following Sunday, I was in Everyday Church Wimbledon for the first time in my life,” Nadim says.
“I’ve probably only missed a handful of weekends since then – that’s three and half years’ worth...In that time I have learned quite a lot about the Bible, God and Jesus through the verbal teachings of our pastor, Phil Moore, and the visiting preachers who come to talk.”
Nadim describes his fledgling faith as “wonky”. He hasn’t had a formal theological education and finds reading the Bible tough. But his belief in Jesus is unwavering: “I saw those angels. I know it was for a reason. Therefore, everything in the Bible is true. I don’t need to read it to know it’s true.”
Nevertheless, Nadim has begun to tentatively open his copy of the New Testament to learn more about the faith that now means everything to him and his family (his wife and son have since become Christians). He also tells me that God has been confirming his presence through prophetic words from others. “Things have happened in my life since Natasha has died that I would actually say are so unbelievable...God has definitely confirmed: ‘I’m here, I’m watching you, I’m hearing you and I’m with you.’”
Natasha never lived long enough to get baptised as she had hoped, but when Nadim went under the water at Everyday Church on 15 July 2018, he wore a T-shirt with her picture and name printed on it. “We went under the water together, symbolically, if you like,” he tells me.
Reflecting back on why he saw the angels that day on the plane and no one else did, Nadim says: “My view is that it was given by God for me to see for a reason. I can literally call it a lynchpin moment. Everything has changed for me.”
In June 2019 Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse set up the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, in order to save other children from fatal food allergies. The charity has successfully worked with the government to change the food labelling laws (known as Natasha’s Law, which passed through parliament in 2019 so that full ingredient labelling will become mandatory). It has started funding vital scientific medical research into understanding why the UK is becoming more food allergic, and it also campaigns for greater awareness in schools. It is a charity with a strong Christian ethos and brings God into conversation with government, company CEOs and the public. “We want to save people,” says Nadim, “both physically and spiritually, and we truly believe that God has made this our calling now until we die and rejoin our daughter, Natasha, in heaven.’’
To hear the full interview listen to Premier Christian Radio at 9pm on Sunday 19 April or download The Profile podcast premierchristianradio.com/theprofile.