‘They said I wouldn’t make it . . . How wrong’

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NO-one was prepared to give Christine Helliwell much of a chance when she was born 65 years ago - no-one, that is, except her loving parents.

Disabled by spina bifida, Christine was virtually written off by the medical and educational establishment. This was the late 1940s and understanding of her medical condition was limited.

Her parents were warned not to expect her to survive infancy (she did) and told that she would not be able to walk (she can). Then they were told she would not live beyond the age of 15 (she did) and that she would never be educated (she went on to gain a degree).

Christine, of Croft Place, Brighouse, attributes her amazing survival story to the determination and support of her parents who encouraged her to be independent and resourceful when it would have been all too easy to wrap her in cotton wool.

“People used to think my mum and dad were rather hard on me because as soon as I was old enough they made me do things for myself. I had to help around the home and do the chores. It may have taken me longer than my brother and sister but I wasn’t allowed to get out of it. They encouraged me to walk and fought for me to have a private tutor when they were told I was too disabled to be educated.”

Christine had to undergo painful surgery and physiotherapy as a child and couldn’t walk until she was eight. Denied the chance to go to school, she joined the Brownies and made new friends who helped her.

“Being in the Brownies and then the Guides kept me going. It made me feel involved in things. I was even allowed to go on Guide camp though I couldn’t stay overnight,” said Christine.

From that day, the Guiding movement has continued to play an important part in Christine’s life. As an adult, she helped out with Guides and the play group in Northowram and was Brownie leader at Halifax Parish Church. She is now chairman of Halifax Trefoil Guild for retired Brownie and Guide leaders.

Unable to start formal education until she was 10, Christine made up for lost time at evening classes and went on to gain a science degree as an adult through the Open University. Proud of her independence, she worked for many years at A H Marks at Wyke becoming an analytical chemist in the lab. One of the highlights of her life was being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1989 in recognition of her services to Guiding.

She is also a member of the Embroidery Guild which meets at the Maurice Jagger Centre in Halifax and regularly attends Brighouse Parish Church and classes at Waring Green Community Centre.

“I suppose I’ve always been a bit bloody-minded and determined to get on with my life,” said Christine. “I’ve had to endure long spells in hospital and it does give you a certain mental fortitude. I’ve always wanted to try and achieve things for myself and to lead as normal a life as possible.”

Now Christine has been asked to use her knowledge and experience to help new mums with babies with spina bifida in the Bradford area.

“I’ve been asked by the Spina Bifida Society to go and talk to the new mums and make them realise that having a baby with spina bifida is not the end of the world. I am a positive person and I believe I have a positive message to share. I was not expected to survive but I’m still here at 65 and I’ve had a very full life!”