SHE was a doting mum-of-three who had always lived life to the full.
But Helen Fleming’s life was cruelly snatched away by a rare genetic disorder which she always knew she had a chance of developing in her 40s.
The 46-year-old, whose movement had become unsteady because of Huntington’s Disease, died after falling down the stairs at her family home in Eversley Crescent, Leigh Park.
Today, her devastated mum Maureen Eyles paid tribute to her daughter and called for more research into the condition, which is caused by a faulty gene.
Mrs Eyles, 76, of Templeton Close, Hilsea, said: ‘She kept dropping things and it worried her.
‘She went to the doctor, did a blood test and it was positive. She never really came to terms with it.
‘It’s a very difficult thing to deal with.
‘She did not tell us straight away. It was some time before she told us. She kept it to herself.’
People with the gene can lead completely healthy lives until middle age when the disease takes its toll and starts to cause loss of movement, memory and mental ability.
Once diagnosed, people rarely live beyond 15 years. Helen’s father Kenneth Matthews, from Fareham, as well his mother, had died from the condition years beforehand.
Helen always knew there was a possibility she had inherited the gene, but had not been tested until three years ago.
Her sisters, who are twins, were tested but did not inherit the gene.
Mrs Eyles said: ‘Helen was the image of her father. She had seen how it progressed by looking after her dad.
‘She was absolutely devastated.’
Helen still tried to enjoy life – going on holiday to the Caribbean – but an ordinary life became more and more difficult.
An inquest in Southampton heard she had had several falls.
On March 30, she went into her son Jay’s bedroom to give him some money and then left the room.
Jay said: ‘I heard a scream and a thud. I found mum at the bottom of the stairs.’
Mrs Fleming had hit her head badly and developed a traumatic brain injury.
She underwent surgery at the Wessex Neurological Centre in Southampton, but her condition never improved.
She died on April 5, surrounded by her loving family.
Coroner Keith St John Wiseman recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Mrs Eyles said: ‘She was always smiling. She was bubbly.
‘Helen had a wide circle of friends.
‘I was absolutely gobsmacked at the funeral by the number of friends that turned up.
‘I have never heard men or boys cry like that at a funeral.’
Huntington’s disease still has no cure despite being discovered 130 years ago.
Mrs Eyles said: ‘I don’t think there’s enough research going on.
‘The only research seems to be in America.’
Mrs Fleming leaves behind her 40-year-old husband Mike and grown-up sons Craig, Bradley and Jay.
HUNTINGTON’S Disease causes certain nerve cells in the brain to waste away.
About eight in every 100,000 people in the UK have it. The highest prevalence of the disorder in the world is near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela where it affects around 700 per 100,000 of the population.
In 1993 scientists discovered the gene that causes the illness.