An Eaton Socon mother-of-three, who lost her son to a debilitating disease and spent the next 25 years caring for her daughter with the same condition, was recognised at a national awards ceremony – Inspiration Awards for Women – in London on October 7.

JULIE Cousins is an inspiration – and that’s official.

The Eaton Socon mother-of-three, who lost her son to a debilitating disease and spent the next 25 years caring for her daughter with the same condition, was recognised at a national awards ceremony – Inspiration Awards for Women – in London on October 7.

The 59-year-old won the Aspirational Woman category after being nominated by her friend and Champneys Health Spa mogul Dorothy Purdew, whom she met through her husband’s work. The category was to celebrate women whom others aspire to emulate.

Mrs Cousins told The Hunts Post: “I was very proud and humbled by the award. I never thought I’d deserve anything like this. It was a total shock.”

Two of her three children were born with the genetic degenerative disease Friedrich’s Ataxia, which affects one in 50,000 people, and gradually removes their ability to walk, talk and swallow.

Her middle child, Matthew, was diagnosed with the condition at the age of nine, and died in 1995, aged just 18.

“We knew nothing about the disease when they diagnosed Matthew in 1976. There was no internet back then. I spent my days in the library trying to find out as much about Friedrich’s as possible.”

Matthew’s decline was rapid. He was diagnosed at nine, partially wheelchair-bound at 11 and unable to walk by the age of 14.

“The side-effects of Friedrich’s are very complex,” Mrs Cousins added. “Matthew had a curvature of the spine (scoliosis), which became so severe it began putting pressure on his lungs. He needed an 11-hour operation to relieve the pressure, which was a success, but he lost lots of blood and had a very poor recuperation which meant he just didn’t make it.”

Shortly after Matthew’s diagnosis the Cousins family were told that their youngest child, Claire, also had the disease.

Now 31, Claire lives in the specially-converted family bungalow on Great North Road.

Mrs Cousins said the ataxia was definitely “taking its toll” and her daughter could no longer walk, had trouble swallowing and her speech at times became slurred. But, she added, Claire was a popular girl who remained upbeat with a great sense of humour, despite her suffering.

“I raised all my children to try to be positive,” she said. “I told them that people will back off if you’re continually depressed.”

In the years since Matthew’s diagnosis, Mrs Cousins and her husband Brian have relied on the support of charity Ataxia UK, and have also been touched by the generosity of people in the area.

“The people of St Neots are so generous and always have been,” she said. “We desperately needed a specialist bed for Claire, which cost £4,000, and the previous landlords of the Miller’s Arms in St Neots raised the money.”

The Cousins’ eldest son, James, 37, was the only child not to have Friedrich’s, although he is a carrier. The disease can be passed on only if both parents carry the defective gene, and James’s one-year-old daughter Martha will have to be tested when she reaches adulthood and wants to have children.

Mrs Cousins added: “I heard story after story from remarkable women at the ceremony. It made me proud to be a woman. You can’t let situations like this break you, but you have to fight back. I’m a great believer in the phrase ‘what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger’.”

INFORMATION: Visit www.ataxia.org.uk43