Brave Natalie dies aged 23

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An inspirational young woman who brought joy to everyone with her sunshine smile has died after a lifetime of illness.

Natalie Ridehalgh was 23, but looked only about 12 years old. She was born a normal healthy baby but when she was only eight months she was hit by the first of a series of illnesses that changed her life for ever.

Doctors diagnosed her with epilepsy, and two months later she had a stroke.

“She’s always been a fighter,” said mum Julie, “She was happy all the time with the most beautiful smile. My last memory is her beaming at me to say thank you for cleaning her mouth.” Julie had taken an hour off caring for a driving lesson when Natalie died.

Tiny Natalie taught herself to crawl and could say “Daddy” before contracting measles encephalitis when she was two. She developed cerebral palsy, and lost all her abilities, becoming quadriplegic. At three, she had a major operation for a twisted bowel and constant bouts of pneumonia left her lungs badly scared.

The illnesses also left her blind, but she radiated happiness whenever the sun shone and she felt its warmth.

Her mum and dad, Spencer, and their sons James (26) and Mark (29) cared for Natalie every day of her short life with the help of their family.

“We wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said Julie. “Natalie was a very brave little girl. She never grumbled or moaned, and she made friends everywhere she went.”

She attended Westways School before becoming too ill and was particularly fond of her teacher, Margaret Cussons, whose voice she knew instantly.

The family lived in Lower Manor Lane for her life. “We had some good friends,” said Julie. “They supported charity events Alan Hard organised at the Reedley Hallows pub and at the sports club in Abel Street. It meant a lot.”

The family moved to a bungalow in Cliviger 14 months ago to make life a little easier. “Natalie loved it here,” said Julie. “She loved music and painting, anything tactile. She’s had 18 months of good health and has really enjoyed going to garden centres, and to Boundary Mill.”

Natalie’s funeral on Monday at St Andrew’s Church, will feature music by Bruno Mars, one of her favourites. Donations in her memory can be made to Derian House Children’s Hospice, where she had respite care.