Model behaviour: 5-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome becomes child modelFeatureworld

Meet Natalie Goleniowski, the five-year-old taking the modelling world by storm.

Gorgeous Natalie - or Natty - has Down's Syndrome and almost died soon after birth. Despite her parents' fears that she may never learn to walk or talk properly, she battled through pneumonia and heart surgery and has now started school, and has been snapped up by two clothing companies to model their ranges.

"When Natty was born we didn't know if she would live, let alone if she would walk or talk properly, so this is a dream come true," says proud mum Hayley Goleniowski, 42.

"But everywhere we go people stop me to say what a gorgeous little girl Natty is. And she just adores being in front of the camera."

Natty's life as a child model is a world away from the day she was born.

Full-time mum Hayley and her music company boss husband, Bob, 57, from Padstow, Cornwall, who also have another daughter, Mia, seven, did not expect their second child would be born anything but healthy.

"Apart from some morning sickness, the pregnancy was totally normal," says Hayley, who has had five miscarriages.

"A scan at three months did pick up an unusual thickness in Natty's neck and we were told this could be a sign of Down's. But the chance of Natty having Down's Syndrome was given as 300 to one, which wasn't enough to go for further tests such as amniocentesis."

Model behaviour: 5-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome becomes child modelFeatureworld


The couple chose to have a home birth, and although Hayley describes it as being "beautifully calm", as soon as 6lb Natty was born, alarm bells started ringing:

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Natty was blue and not breathing. It was terrifying. We knew something was terribly wrong when the midwife went into full emergency mode and gave Natty the kiss of life.

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An ambulance was called and the pair were rushed to Truro's Trelisk hospital. There, as Hayley lay in shock in a side room, medical staff desperately fought to save Natalia's life.

It was four hours before a consultant came in and gave the couple the news that their daughter was not only critically ill but had Down's Syndrome:

"His actual words were a blur. I was so stunned. Bob was fantastic - he immediately said, 'well, she's our baby and we'll love her anyway,' and Mia adored her from the start. But I was numb.

"It sounds awful now. But I didn't even want to see her. It was such a nightmare - I just wanted to go home and forget I'd had a baby. I just looked at her in an incubator and thought, 'you're not pretty. You don't even look like my baby'. I felt as if I'd produced an alien."

Natty had two holes in her heart, and as the doctors warned Hayley and Bob the next few hours would be crucial, the couple had their daughter christened in hospital.

That night the couple went home. But it was when they returned the next morning that mum and daughter began to bond, and after three weeks they were allowed to bring her home.

"But no-one could tell us whether she would walk or even talk properly," says Hayley. "She was constantly ill. We were in and out of hospital with pneumonia and she was constantly on antibiotics."

Model behaviour: 5-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome becomes child modelFeatureworld


Gradually, and with intense physiotherapy to help strengthen her limbs, Natalia grew stronger:

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I'll never forget the day she first sat up by herself. She was ten months and that felt an amazing achievement.

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At a year old, Natty stunned everyone when she said her first word - Teddy. At twenty months she took her first wobbly steps, and at two years, she had heart surgery to seal the holes in her heart. In September, Natty reached another milestone the family never thought possible - she started mainstream school.

When Natalia was four and the family were on holiday in Jamaica, they were approached by a photographer.

"She was also on holiday and she asked if she could take some photos of Natty," explains Hayley. "She was amazed at how photogenic Natty was. Meanwhile, we couldn't believe how much Natty adored posing for the camera. She loved it."

After reading about a boy with Down's Syndrome in the U.S who is now a model, Hayley decided to write to a couple of clothing companies with a snap of Natty.

"We immediately felt Natty had model potential and are now looking forward to featuring her in our next catalogue and online," says Kurt Jewson, co-founder of children's organic clothing company Frugi.

"When we saw Natalia's photos we were bowled over by how pretty she was," agrees Alice Treharne from Jo Jo Maman Bebe. "We think she will be perfect to model clothes for our 2012 Autumn catalogue."

Since then her proud mum has received interest from several other organisations - including holiday companies - requesting to see Natalia for modelling work.

"We are all so proud of Natty," says Hayley.
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She does shine and it's wonderful that others see what we do in her.

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Words by Alison Smith-Squire

What a fabulous story, and what a gorgeous little girl! We'll be looking out for Natty's work!