Family pay tribute to ‘happy and bubbly’ Leah

Leah Cunliffe with boyfriend Nathan Hesketh

Leah Cunliffe with boyfriend Nathan Hesketh

A grieving family has paid tribute to a “bubbly” Wigan woman who died just weeks after her 21st birthday.

Leah Cunliffe hit the headlines when she was just five years old after contracting hepatitis A during an outbreak at St William’s RC Primary School in Ince.

Leah Cunliffe

Leah Cunliffe

Doctors said she had just 24 hours to live, but she underwent a liver transplant and pulled through.

However, Leah suffered other health problems in the past 18 months and she died on Monday, January 23.

Although she had liver failure, it was not believed to be related to her illness as a child.

Now, money is being raised in her memory for the children’s ward at St James’s Hospital in Leeds where she was treated as a youngster.

The hospital saved her life when she was little. When she first went in, I will always remember it was a Sunday night, and as we got there they told me and my husband that they only gave her 24 hours to live

Jackie Cunliffe

Mum Jackie Cunliffe said: “The hospital saved her life when she was little. When she first went in, I will always remember it was a Sunday night, and as we got there they told me and my husband that they only gave her 24 hours to live.

“It’s unfortunate for someone else but lucky for her they gave her a liver.”

Leah recovered well from the transplant and was able to live a relatively normal life.

She attended Rose Bridge High School in Ince and was working as a cleaner when she died.

She was a keen horse rider and loved animals.

Mrs Cunliffe said: “She had two dogs, Harris’s hawks, an owl and fish. She did love her animals, especially horses.”

Leah lived on Battersby Street, Higher Ince, with her parents Jackie and Malcolm.

She loved spending time with her family - which included five sisters, a step-sister and nine nieces and nephews - as well as her boyfriend of four-and-a-half years, Nathan Hesketh.

Her sister Kelly Cunliffe said: “She was happy and bubbly.”

But around 18 months ago Leah started suffering from abdominal pain, flu and other illnesses.

Doctors found a blood clot on the portal vein, which carries blood to the liver from the spleen, stomach, pancreas and intestines.

She was given warfarin tablets for 10 months and it started to dissolve, but she returned to hospital with more pain in November.

She was transferred to St James’s Hospital and tests were carried out.

Leah returned home on Friday, December 23, but she became unwell again shortly after her 21st birthday on Monday, January 2 and went back to hospital in Leeds.

She went into intensive care and was put on dialysis as her kidneys, liver and spleen were failing.

She had an infection and doctors believed she had a bleed on her bowel but they could not find it.

Sadly, her family was told there was nothing more that could be done and she died the following day.

The cause of death was liver failure and thrombosis of the main portal vein.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral to say goodbye to Leah.

Money is now being raised for the children’s ward at St James’s Hospital in her memory. The Amberswood Tavern in Ince will hold a fund-raiser from 1pm on Saturday, February 25.

There will be bouncy castles, a karaoke, singers, auction and cake stalls, and some of Leah’s friends plan to attend with their horses.

Many local businesses have already donated prizes for a raffle and auction and organisers still hope more will be given.

Mrs Cunliffe said: “The community in not just Ince, but all of Wigan, have been sending donations. Local businesses have been very supportive.”

Money can also be given to the appeal online at www.gofundme.com/aay87-in-memory-of-leah-cunliffe