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Having spina bifida means Niamh can't walk but that doesn't stop her doing anything she wants.. she's truly amazing; Mum of three makes a splash by raising more than PS8000 for spina bifida charity who supported her family.

Byline: Jenny Morrison

WHEN Gill Currie tells people her daughter has spina bifida, she admits she gets defensive when they ask if she hadn't known to take folic acid before she became pregnant - or even if baby Niamh was a surprise.

Mum-of-three Gill is a huge ambassador of the vitamin that can greatly reduce the chance of a baby suffering from a fault in the development of their spinal column, causing damage to their nervous system and leaving them unable to walk.

But Gill knows only too well that while taking folic acid can cut your baby's chance of having spina bifida by more than 70 per cent, it sadly doesn't prevent all cases.

Gill, 34, of Dunfermline, said: "My daughter Niamh was very much a planned baby and I had been taking folic acid in the weeks before she was conceived and continued to take it when I knew I was pregnant.

"There was no history of spina bifida in my family but I've learned there doesn't have to be a history.

"You can do all the right things and still this condition can just happen.

"I admit I do get quite defensive and upset when people presume I either didn't know about folic acid or that Niamh was an unplanned baby."

Gill and husband Tony, 37, a primary school head teacher, were first told their second child may have spina bifida when Gill was just 17 weeks pregnant. A scan two weeks later confirmed doctors' fears.

Now, more than three years on, as Niamh plays happily with her brothers, Ciaran, five, and Joseph, two, proud mum Gill explains she is on a mission to help raise awareness of the condition and funds for the charity who helped her cope in those early days after diagnosis.

Gill said: "When we were first told our baby had spina bifida, neither of us knew anything about it.

"I knew it was likely that she would need a wheelchair and that she might suffer other health problems, too.

"But most of all, I knew how much I loved her already and how much she would be loved by the rest of the family.

"It can be overwhelming to try to take in all the ins and outs of what hurdles your baby might face, which is where the Scottish Spina Bifida Association came in.

"They sent someone out to our house for a chat and were just brilliant at helping us understand exactly what we needed to know."

As Gill's pregnancy progressed, she attended hospital for regular scans.

Gill said: "They can actually tell from the detailed scans where the damage to your child's spinal cord is.

"They can also tell if there is any build-up of fluid on the brain, which is common in babies with spina bifida. It is a sign of hydrocephalus, which means your baby can also have learning difficulties.

"We knew that Niamh did have hydrocephalus and we knew the area of damage meant it was unlikely she would walk - but knowing in advance helps prepare you for what lies ahead."

Niamh was born on September 28, 2010, at the Simpson maternity unit of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Just hours after her birth, she was transferred to the city's Royal Hospital for Sick Children for an operation to close the hole she had been born with in her spine. At just a week old, she underwent a second operation, this time to insert a shunt that would prevent the build-up of fluid in her head.

Then, just hours after her second operation, her health deteriorated and tests revealed she was suffering from bacterial meningitis.

But powerful antibiotics helped save Niamh's life and, seven weeks after her birth, she was finally allowed home from hospital.

Gill said: "To look at Niamh now you would never know what a traumatic start she had to life.

"She is three and she can't walk but that doesn't stop her doing anything she wants to do.

"She is a truly amazing little girl and she just wins the heart of everyone she meets."

Gill says her daughter's favourite place to play is in their local swimming pool and Niamh's love of water is partly responsible for Gill giving up her job as a marketing manager and setting up her own business running a Turtle Tots baby tube defects.

and toddler swimming franchise.

However, the Bifida Association's tudy found that 50 per cent of Scotland are still folic acid. before Last year, the Government Getting Enough? at increasing on the benefits For more bifida, visit www.

She set up the franchise while pregnant with her youngest son and, as her business continues to grow, she admits she loves the way she can fit it around her family.

Gill, who is the licensee for Turtle Tots in Fife, said: "Niamh loves being in the water and it is the one place she feels a total sense of freedom.

"I was 32 weeks pregnant with Joseph when I did all my swimming training courses, so it goes without saying that he loves swimming, too."

She added: "We don't know what the future holds for Niamh but we will let Niamh do what she wants to do.

"We are so proud of her."

Daring to win GILL and friend Kirsty McNiece from Turtle Tots West Lothian and Perthshire have just been crowned winners of the Scottish Spina Bifida Association's (SSBA) Dragon's Dare competition after raising more than PS8000.

The contest was supported by SSBA patron Duncan Bannatyne, who gave 10 carefully chosen businesses PS500 with the objective of them turning the money into at least PS5000 for the charity in six months.

Gill explained: "It was a huge privilege to take part in the Dragon's Dare challenge - and fabulous to actually win it.

"To make as much money as possible, we launched Turtle Tots in Aberdeen and we raised more than PS8000.

"The SSBA has helped me and the rest of my family and it's a great feeling to be able to give something back."

The condition SPINA bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs in pregnancy.

It is caused by the failure of the neural tube to close properly and the fault occurs in the first 28 days of pregnancy, often causing multiple disabilities.

Many people born with spina bifida will be lifelong wheelchair users. A large number will also suffer from hydrocephalus, which can cause learning difficulties.

Scotland has a higher rate of neural tube defects than the rest of Europe, with one in every 1000 pregnancies affected.

Medics believe taking folic acid before conception and during the early stages of pregnancy can prevent up to 72 per cent of neural tube defects.

However, the Scottish Spina Bifida Association said a recent study found that more than 50 per cent of women in Scotland are still not taking folic acid before pregnancy.

Last year, the Scottish Government launched the Are You Getting Enough? campaign, aimed at increasing women's awareness on the benefits of taking folic acid.

For more information on spina bifida, visit www.ssba.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

JOYFUL Gill at home with Ciaran, Niamh and Joseph

WATER BABIES Swimming instructor Gill and son Joseph, right
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 3, 2014
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