WHEN Eleri Edwards was born three months before she was due, the doctors feared the worst.
Born prematurely because of her mother Sarra's rare congenital disorder, the family were informed that both mother and baby had just 24 hours to live.
And even though Eleri and Sarra survived that critical first day, the family faced the further heartache of coping with Eleri's speech, hearing and sight difficulties and her extremely limited mobility.
But, in a remarkable and touching story, Eleri has overcome almost all of the obstacles she faced. Now in mainstream school at Johnstown Infants School, she celebrated her sixth birthday earlier this week and she now hears, sees and speaks.
And, although she is still confined to a wheelchair, she informs everyone that her chair is 'super fast'.
Since she was born, Eleri has received treatment and support from the Maelor Children's Centre, which runs therapy groups and individual sessions for children with special needs, chronic medical conditions and children with learning or physical difficulties. Eleri's grandmother Pearl Pugh and her husband Dave have been working tirelessly to raise funds for the Centre, and now they are hoping that Mail readers will be able to help them.
'My family are indebted to the team of experts at the Maelor Children's Centre. I can't thank them enough. These experts do tremendous work in trying to enhance the lives of these children. We've been fundraising as a way of thanks for what they've done for Eleri and to raise the profile for other children.
'What we are looking for Mail readers to do is donate a gift, no matter how large or small, that we can raffle or auction off later this year. The Centre really does need our help and any donation would be greatly appreciated.'
Eleri, which is Welsh for 'gift from God', was born three months prematurely in July 1997 because her mother developed Ateriovenous Malformation Syndrome (AVMS), a rare, life-threatening congenital disorder which caused her arteries and veins to become entangled with Eleri's umbilical cord.
'At the time, we were unaware that Sarra had this problem,' said Pearl. 'Her eldest son Cieron had been born a month premature but we didn't have any idea she had this rare condition. She was transported to a hospital in Liverpool for special scans, and eventually those scans were used for teaching purposes because the doctors had never seen anything like it.
'I couldn't sleep at all the night before Sarra was due to give birth. I remember calling the sister back and saying, 'Save me the life I know, not the life I don't know.' I felt guilty saying it, but I didn't give any hope for this baby and neither did the doctors. They feared for her life and said that within 24 hours mum and baby would be dead.
'But against the odds, they both made it. Eleri's hands were tiny and she was so beautiful. The road ahead still looked hard and heartbreaking, but looking at her now, she's achieved so much and she's a truly remarkable child. The doctors are amazed at how much this little girl goes from strength to strength.'
When Eleri was 18 months old, staff at the Maelor Children's Centre suggested Eleri, Pearl, Sarra and her husband Michael learn sign language.
'We were given a wonderful lady called Sarah Lazlo,' says Pearl, ' and four months into the lessons Eleri signed 'daddy work'. We were so proud of her and the whole family celebrated.
That response seemed to trigger Eleri, and she wanted to show us over and over again how well she could sign.
'We can't get over how clever she's become at signing. Eleri had an appointment at the Maelor Children's Centre one morning and a woman signed 'good morning' back to front. And Eleri let the world and the armies know that this lady had got it wrong!
'After about 18 months of using the sign language, Eleri started to pick out certain words. I wouldn't say she speaks every word clearly, but she certainly speaks loudly! And when her verbal requests for
sweets fail, she is clever enough to sign 'sweets'.'
Pearl and her family have suffered more than their fair share of heartache. Her eldest daughter Bridget had a brain haemorrhage when giving birth, and they were forced to put their fundraising efforts on hold last year when Dave was diagnosed with cancer and required a liver transplant.
But with the whole family living on the same estate in Llay, they have rallied together to battle through their problems, and upon meeting Pearl and Dave is it obvious they are a very close, loving family.
'Sarra's been to hell and back, and as a family, we've been through so much, but we're still here,' says Pearl.
And they have not given up hope that Eleri will have full use of her legs in the future. 'We think Eleri is full of surprises. She's never ceased to amaze us, so who knows whether she'll be able to walk properly,' adds Pearl.
'Her right side is not so good, and if you put anything in her right hand she'll immediately put it in her left. But there's very little she won't attempt because she's such a gutsy child.
'The most remarkable thing about her is that she sees herself as normal. I've got bad legs, and even though Eleri can't use her legs either, she says to me, 'Nain, you could never be one of the Cheeky Girls!' She doesn't see that she's got any problems and that's lovely.
'We've always given her confidence as a family. She once asked me if she'd always be in a wheelchair and I said, 'Maybe, but if you enter the Paralympics, your Nain and Taid will be right there on the finishing line cheering you on.' We've tried to make everything as normal as we can for her, and nothing has been too high for her to get over.
'Her and Cieron, who is now seven, play together like any other brother and sister, and it's wonderful to see. He's her backbone and he loves the ground she walks on. They squabble just like siblings do, but his world is built completely around her.
'Sometimes, people ask me how do we cope and keep on smiling. But when I think of Eleri, I've got the whole world to smile about. She truly is a gift from God.'
The raffle/auction evening is set to take place on Wednesday, September 3. Anyone who would like to donate a gift or a prize should contact Pearl on (01978) 856616, Les on (01978) 291017 or the Mail.
Battling through: Main picture, Eleri pictured with her granmother Pearl and inset, a more recent picture of the happy-go-lucky toddler.