Abigail Young, who won the Shields Gazette's Child of Courage award in 2007, was born at 29 weeks by an emergency cesarean on September 8, 2001.
She spent 16 days on a ventilator at the RVI and a further three months in a special care baby unit at the hospital, before she was allowed home in time for Christmas.
Originally from Cleadon, Abigail now lives in Seaburn Dene with her parents, Philip and Alison Young and attends Portland Academy in Sunderland.
She suffers from cerebral palsy, hemiplegia and scoliosis curvature of the spine, as well as having severe learning disabilities.
“She is as fiercely independent as she can be, and loves to help other people, she is just a wonderful person,” said dad Philip, a former police officer.
“To be celebrating her 18th birthday is fantastic, because in the early days we didn’t know if we would get this far. It’s a massive milestone for her and a big event in her life.”
The last 18 years, have not been without their challenges for Abigail, her parents and siblings, Melissa, 28, Craig, 25 and Imogen, 15.
Abigail, who has the assistance of an electric buggy, has been supported over the years by Grace House respite centre in Sunderland, The Tiny Lives Trust and The Sunshine Fund.
“It has been challenging for the family unit, but that’s what has kept us together, the support from her siblings and extended family, and Alison and I are each other’s rocks,” said Philip.
“We have made lots of special friends through the years, that’s the positive dimension of having a child with special needs.”
Abigail and the family will be celebrating her 18th birthday with a party at The New Sundial, in South Shields on September 1.
Family, friends and healthcare professionals who have gotten to know and love Abigail over the years will all be there, with a performance from local band, Rivelino.
“It’s all about me,” Abigail added. “I’m looking forward to it a lot, I’m really excited.”