WHEN one Hampshire family tuck into their Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, one member will only be able to watch longingly.

Josh Edwards, 16, has not eaten for more than two years and doctors doubt he ever will.

Severe inflammatory bowel disease has left Josh – who also has autism – unable to tolerate solid food. He survives on a diet of nutrient-rich milk and, after countless hospital visits and years of failed treatments, the teenager’s weight has dropped to just five stone.

His mum Heather – who is convinced her son’s problems were caused by the triple MMR vaccination he received as a baby – finds Christmas one of the hardest times of all.

“It breaks our hearts, as food is a major part of the celebrations,” she says.

As well as operations to remove his bowel and a growth on his oesophagus, Josh has endured numerous exploratory procedures to try and get to the bottom of his illness. The family have even sought medical advice overseas but feel they are no closer to finding a treatment.

Heather recently discharged Josh from hospital after he became so distressed he physically attacked her – something she now puts down to the high doses of medication he was on.

“Josh was pinching my face and shaking me like a rag doll with frustration. He doesn’t understand what’s happening to him and because he can’t talk he can’t tell me how he’s hurting.”

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Locked in his own silent world, Josh, who attends Great Oaks school in Southampton, shows little emotion and cannot understand the feelings of others. Yet he occasionally walks over to his mum, cups her face in his hands and plants a kiss on her lips.

“I’ve lost my beautiful boy to autism and that’s hard enough without having to cope with the bowel problems as well,” she says.

Last year, Josh became violently ill after snacking on one crisp. Earlier this year he swallowed some baby food but was sick within minutes.

“It’s frustrating and we have felt desperation.

I’ve been through the ‘why me?’ phase but in the end you have to carry on,” said Heather.

“I know all the love in the world is not going to make him better but as his mum it is my job to try, and I cannot and will not give up on him. I don’t believe this is as good as it gets. I will carry on until we find something to help him.”

MMR - For and Against

THE CASE FOR MMR ■ The triple MMR vaccine protects children from measles, mumps and rubella, all of which can have serious or even fatal complications.

■ The World Health Organisation states that MMR is a highly effective vaccine with an outstanding safety record.

■ Because of the MMR vaccine, no child has died from acute measles in the UK since 1992 and we are close to wiping out rubella.

■ Before the vaccine was introduced, mumps was the commonest cause of viral meningitis in children and rubella continued to cause terrible damage to some unborn babies.

■ Children who are not immunised with MMR increase the chance that others will get the diseases.

■ Recent studies do not support a link between autism, inflammatory bowel disease and the MMR vaccine.

THE CASE AGAINST MMR ■ Some studies have suggested a link between autism, inflammatory bowel disease and the MMR vaccine.

■ Asthma and Guillain Barre syndrome – a condition of the nervous system – have been linked with the MMR. However, many experts have rejected these links.

■ As with all vaccines, a minority of children will develop mild symptoms of the diseases they are being immunised against.

■ About one in 1,000 children will develop serious side effects such as convulsions.