WHEN NATALIE Rendell was born 24 weeks premature she weighed little more than a tin of beans.

Today, the Penhill girl will celebrate her 21st birthday.

For mum Sarah Rendell, it will be a particularly proud moment.

It was by no means assured that Natalie, who first left hospital seven months after her birth, would survive.

Sarah, 43, from Pinehurst, said: “When she was born they told me she’d never walk, never talk, she’d be quadriplegic, in a wheelchair.

“I didn’t listen. And I’m glad I didn’t listen, because none of that happened.

“I certainly didn’t think we’d get to this point. That’s why I keep making a fuss. I’m a very proud mum.”

It proved a difficult pregnancy for Sarah, who at the time was in her early twenties.

Sarah only discovered she was pregnant with Natalie when she had an X-ray for a pain in her abdomen.

She said: “From 11 weeks to 24 weeks I was bleeding constantly – every time I moved. I had a blood clot in the womb.”

She spent nine hours in labour on the maternity ward. It was a marked difference to the birth of her previous four children – then aged four, three, two and one.

“After Natalie, the doctors did tell me I wasn’t allowed to have anymore because I could die,” said Sarah.

Throughout her life Natalie has been in and out of hospital wards. Sarah reckons her daughter has had 30 operations.

This year alone she has had two operations – on her brain and stomach.

Each time Natalie goes under the knife it could be the last time her family see her.

Sarah said: “It’s horrible when the hospital gives you the permission slip. You read what could happen with the treatments and the last thing they say is always death.”

There have been times when her family feared she wouldn’t make it. At 16, she spent eight hours on the operating table after a drain – called a shunt – designed to ease pressure on her brain was placed in the wrong side of her head.

Natalie said: “They didn’t tell mum anything until I got taken back up to the ward.

“I was taken up for a CT scan. That’s when they found out it was put in the wrong place.”

Her health problems have had an impact on Natalie throughout her life.

Sarah said: “She’s always had to be cautious with what she does.

“She couldn’t play catch, she couldn’t play rounders. Any ball games, she couldn’t play. I had to be careful she didn’t bang her head. If she bangs her head the wrong way she could die.”

Now Natalie, whose four year stint at college ended in January, is considering a future in early years education.

“I’ve always wanted to work with disabled children,” said Natalie.

Sarah chipped in: “When I asked her why, she said it’s because she understands what it’s like to be a disabled child. She wants to give back what she’s learned herself.”