A woman from Northampton has celebrated her 21st birthday, despite doctors believing that even becoming a teenager would kill her.
Sarah Cowley was born with water on the brain, which produced so much pressure inside her skull she developed cerebral palsy.
As she got older she needed more and more treatment, including nine operations in one month at the age of 12 and a six-month stay in hospital.
Specialists predicted that teenage hormone changes in her brain would further increase the forces in her skull to such a degree that she was sure to die.
But the college student has confounded expert opinion and reached adulthood, to the delight of her family.
Mum Linda, of Briar Hill, said: “We don’t talk about it a lot, but she knows how lucky she is.
“The consultant told me he didn’t think she would live her teenage life and that hurt me.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it, but the worst never came.
“A lot of prayers went out to her.”
Family members visited Sarah for her birthday meal at The Queen Eleanor pub in Northampton this week.
Relatives described her as a ‘happy-go-lucky girl’ with ‘a great sense of humour’, and as someone who “loves life”.
Sarah said she was “really pleased” at the turnout, declaring that she felt “very special”.
Linda said: “Every year and every month counts with me. Every time she reaches another year, it’s a blessing. This milestone feels particularly special.
“It has been an amazing 21 years hoping for her to keep going.
“She might reach 40 or 50, who knows.
“All we know is we love her to bits.”
Mrs Cowley was only seven months pregnant when Sarah was delivered prematurely, weighing only 2lbs 5oz.
Water on the brain is called hydrocephalus by doctors. It meant a pump had to be attached from Sarah’s head to her abdomen when she was a child to constantly drain the fluid.
But the mechanism involved a lot of medical risks because changing her tube led to infections, which left her hospitalised several times.
She went to Fairfields and Greenfields schools in Northampton and is now a student at Coventry’s Hereward College.
She has endured several operations but the family said she still retained her spirit.
Linda said: “She’s a strong girl and she needed to be to come through all of this.”
Cerebral palsy is a general term covering a number of brain and nervous system conditions that affect a child’s movement and coordination.
It is caused by damage to the brain, which normally occurs before, during or soon after birth. Some children have problems walking, while others are profoundly disabled and require lifelong care.
Children with cerebral palsy often have other related conditions or problems, including epilepsy learning difficulties, visual impairment hearing impairment, difficulties speaking or understanding other people speak.
About one in 400 babies in the UK have cerebral palsy.