‘I owe my life to the NHS – as well as my chance to be a bride’

Alice Halstead pictured with her dog Holly
Alice Halstead pictured with her dog Holly
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Alice Halstead was 
told that she may never see her 18th birthday. But today she has a job and is planning her wedding. Catherine Scott reports.

Alice Halstead is something of a walking miracle.

Alice Halstead spent three years in hospital

Alice Halstead spent three years in hospital

Doctors told the now 27-year-old from Embsay that it was unlikely she would live beyond her 18th birthday.

But thanks to their skills and dedication, and after having spent most of her teenage years in Leeds General Infirmary, not only has Alice survived, but she now has a job in a primary school and is planning her wedding which takes place in just over two weeks.

“Without the NHS, the amazing doctors and nurses and all the staff there is no way I would be here,” says Alice, who suffers from a very rare form of Type 1 diabetes which means her blood sugar levels can plummet dangerously or rocket sky-high without warning.

When doctors were left baffled by the results of her blood tests, they sent samples of her blood around the globe.

They even posted requests for help on the internet in an attempt to find other patients showing similar symptoms.

Eventually, they got some results – a high insulin level and insulin antibodies were present, a condition known as Autoimmune Insulin Syndrome, which explained such severe symptoms.

Having been diagnosed in 2006, the LGI became home for Alice and her mum, Linda, as the unpredictability of her condition meant she needed constant supervision and access to medical help.

She spent three years in the hospital.

“It was tough, I wasn’t able to do all the things a normal teenager does, I couldn’t even sit my GCSEs.”

Instead, Alice dedicated her time to helping other poorly children, organising fundraising events and eventually becoming an ambassador for Rays of Sunshine which grants the wishes of poorly youngsters – Alice herself was a recipient.

Over the years Alice has raised more than £60,000 for the charity and it is set to be one of the beneficiaries from her forthcoming nuptials.

“Rather than giving favour to our guests we thought we would make donations to Rays of Sunshine by granting a wish for a child.”

When she was eventually allowed home in 2010 she still had to have constant supervision. She craved the independence she had never had, and read about Medical Detection Dogs.

“I began to have a glimmer of hope that maybe with the help of a specially trained assistance dog, I could start to gain some independence.”

Holly is trained to smell the change in Alice’s blood sugar levels and alerts her by licking her hand to gain her attention. If she is ignored, the black curly haired retriever will become more insistent, eventually fetching Alice’s blood testing kit for her.

She has not only given Alice the independence she craved, she has become her best friend and even allowed her to fulfil her ambition of getting a job.

“Two years ago to mark ten years since she was diagnosed I pledged to do ten things I never thought she would be able to do,” explains Alice.

“Getting my GCSEs was one and I managed to do that despite my blood sugars being affected the stress of exam pressure.

“But my consultant has been amazing and has always supported me and given me the confidence and reassurance to achieve anything.”

Getting a part-time job at Bradleys Both Community Primary school was a huge move for Alice, which was only made possible due to Holly.

“She comes with me to work and the children adore her.”

Leaving home to move in with her boyfriend was another big step for Alice and her mum and dad. Her mum Linda has been through everything with her daughter even living on the hospital ward with her when she was a teenager. When she was allowed home before Holly came along it was Linda who was Alice’s constant companion and had to witness her little girl having a life-threatening hypo if things got bad.

“It was emotional but it was something I had to do,” says Alice.

Travelling was something else Alice had never really been able to do, so when she and her boyfriend decided to visit Canada, another thing on her list, it was another huge achievement.

But the hardest thing was leaving Holly behind.

“I had never been apart from her in the seven years I had had her and not only did I know I would miss her but also it meant not having her there to alert me to a problem with my blood sugars.” But again her doctor insisted she would be fine, as she knew her own body better than anyone.

And, with extra testing of her blood sugars and the support of her boyfriend, Alice ticked another thing off her list.

While she was away she received a surprise, as her boyfriend proposed during a helicopter ride over the Niagara Falls. Since then her life has been taken up with wedding plans.

“Two of my bridesmaids are people I met when I was in hospital,” says Alice.

“If people had told me all the things I would have achieved in the last five years I would never have believed them. I didn’t think I would reach my 18th birthday and now look at me.”

And, as the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, Alice has her own tribute to pay.

“It is thanks to the NHS and the staff at Leeds Teaching Hospitals that I am still alive today. They saved my life and continue to do so. With the support and dedication of the doctors and nurses, many of whom became friends over the years, they enabled a unique situation to become more bearable.”