Costessey woman tells how a companion dog changed her life

A woman who lost all her limbs after suffering from a blood poisoning form of meningitis has told how a companion dog has changed her life.

Helen Dolphin, 36, who lives in New Costessey was just 22 when she was struck by the illness during the Christmas holidays.

Mrs Dolphin, who works at Disabled Motoring UK in Ashwellthorpe, said: 'I lost four limbs in the space of 24 hours. I was studying for a PhD in obesity in London after completing a BSc in molecular and cellular biology. I had hoped to be a research scientist. I had only been studying for my PhD for three months. I started feeling ill on Christmas day. On Boxing Day I called out a doctor and they said I had flu but it felt worse.'

The next day Mrs Dolphin called another doctor who said she had food poisoning but four hours later she was nearly in a coma.

'We called another doctor who called for an ambulance. The last time I walked with my own legs was on to the ambulance.'

Mrs Dolphin spent six months in Addenbrooke's hospital. She then lived with her parents for two years in Cambridge before moving to her own house in Thorpe St Andrew.

She said: 'On the day that I moved to Norwich I picked up my adapted car. I hadn't lived on my own for years – looking back I think I was mad. Living on my own was hard. If something went wrong I had to sort it out. It was a tough time. I didn't like being on my own in the house. There was a lot of stuff that I couldn't do such as taking my coat off and picking stuff up – I would have to get out of my wheelchair. When I heard about assistance dogs I thought it would help me.'

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She went to Canine Partners, a West Sussex-based charity which provides specially trained assistance dogs. She was paired with Umbro, a golden retriever poodle cross. However, Mrs Dolphin soon started suffering from a headache and was rushed to hospital with dangerously high blood pressure. By the time she was well enough to be paired with a dog, Umbro had been given to someone else.

Two years later when she returned to Canine Partners, she was paired with Yancey, a grey labradoodle, who has transformed her life. 'From the first time I worked with her I hoped she would be my dog. Yancey didn't mind a hook giving her titbits. Nobody stares at me because they are too busy staring at the dog.'

When Mrs Dolphin married Paul, 39, last year, there was a model of the couple with Yancey on top of the cake. She added: 'She gives me the confidence that was missing from me. She goes everywhere with me except the swimming pool.'

Do you have an amazing story to tell? Contact Lucy Wright on 01603 772495 or email

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