A YOUNG women who has battled a lifetime of challenges and defied the odds to live beyond her teenage years is to be honoured by royalty for an inspirational achievement.

Helaina Stone, who suffers from Costello syndrome – a life-shortening, rare genetic condition that causes physical disabilities, learning difficulties and speech problems – is to be presented with a Gold Duke of Edinburgh award at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh next month.

She will be honoured with the accolade by a member of the royal family with her mum Cath and dad Colin proudly watching on.

Her achievement is even more incredible considering 24-year-old Helaina wasn’t expected to live beyond 18 and has survived cancer twice, overcome brain and heart surgery and numerous other operations and procedures, astounding doctors with her resilience.

To gain her gold award, which she did through Rochdale Youth Service, Helaina – who lives on the Oldham/New Moston border – helped the elderly in a local care home, passed a number of dance exams, volunteered at a respite centre in Southport and completed a four-day expedition in the Peak District.

Not only did she manage a caving trip, she also went rock climbing and on a zip wire as part of the tough challenge.

Cath, who accompanied her on the expedition, said: “I couldn’t believe it. She was amazing on the expedition and did things I never thought she’d be able to.

“The slope down the cave was so steep and you had to bend down to get inside and walk over rocks and all sorts. I came out, I couldn’t stand it at all but Helaina went in no problem and was in their 40 minutes walking until she was tired. It was incredible.

“She also took part in games, and had to cook with the others and learn about teamwork and leadership skills. They even taught her how to read a map.

“We all learned a lot on that trip, particularly me. I learned to let go of Helaina. It’s all about seeing what she can do and with a little bit of help, support and adaptation people with disabilities can achieve so much.

“We’re very proud of Helaina. She continues to amaze us.”

She recently became the first ever recipient of the Yasin Khan Inspiration Award at the Rochdale Mayor’s Youth Awards for her Duke of Edinburgh efforts.

Cath says she can’t thank Rochdale Youth Service enough for helping Helaina complete her award, especially youth worker Jamshed Miah who steered her through the tasks.

“Rochdale Youth Service has been brilliant,” added Cath.

“We didn’t know where to go to achieve the gold after she completed silver at Bridge College in Openshaw. Wigan and Rochdale were the only places. They have done so much to help her achieve it, particularly Jamshed and manager Diane Higgins, who is lovely.

“Jamshed said in his speech at the Mayor’s Youth Awards at Rochdale Town Hall that Helaina never said she couldn’t do anything, even on the expedition. He supported her throughout the year.”

Jamshed said: “Helaina never saw her inabilities, she didn’t come to us saying that I want to do the Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s award but, I can’t walk more than 10/15 metres or I can’t read very well or numbers don’t make sense to me.

"She does everything with a big smile on her face. She enabled me and my colleagues to create different patterns of work so we have all learnt so much working with her. She allowed for sparks of creativity and innovation that resulted in the impossible becoming the possible. It allowed us to explore and exercise our professional practice and I am grateful to Helaina and her mum Cath for coming to the youth service.”

Cath also praised Oldham Speech and Language Therapy service for their incredible work with Helaina who is now looking forward to an internship at The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital through The Manchester College’s Citylabs complex.

“She says she’s looking forward to meeting children with special needs and she had also asked if she can talk to families and children who are scared about having operations because she’s had so many and she knows how they feel,” said Cath.