Tragic Dagenham teenager had dreams of competing in Paralympics

Tributes have been paid to a “brave” Dagenham teenager and aspiring Paralympian who died suddenly after returning from holiday.

Lora Milenkova, 14, came to the UK from Bulgaria seven years ago, speaking no English.

The schoolgirl had her leg amputated when she was just eight years old after suffering from an aggressive form of cancer.

Her family said she recovered well from the surgery and was a keen swimmer and tennis player who dreamed of one day competing on the world stage.

However, in August, after returning from a holiday in Bulgaria, she began to struggle to breathe.

She was taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital where her family were told the cancer had spread to her lungs and she died on August 17.

Irena Markova, Lora’s former English teacher at Eastbury Primary School and a family friend, said: “When Lora first came to me she couldn’t speak any English. She didn’t even know hello and goodbye.

“But by the end of the year she was achieving what everyone else was. She was extremely bright and so mature for her age. Lora touched so many people. Even when she had her illness she was so brave and never complained.

“She was a swimmer who wanted to compete at the Paralympics, a dancer, a tennis player and would never let her disability hold her back. She would have achieved great things in life.”

Lora’s swimming teacher Naomi DePeza paid tribute to her former student on social media.

“I’ve been so lucky to teach gorgeous, spirited young swimmers, many with disabilities,” she said. “Lora was one of them, radiating life and laughter. As an amputee she showed such determination. I will miss her joyful soul.”

Staff and students at All Saints Catholic School in Dagenham lined the streets for Lora’s funeral on Thursday.

“Her fantastic Year Group lined the streets in Dagenham for Lora and her family; her last journey was fitting, with her friends proudly nodding in respect, remembering how much she has shaped their lives,” the school said in a statement.

Mrs Markova is raising money for the Milenkova family to help them pay for the funeral.

“She was so full of joy, its a massive loss for everyone who knew her,” she said.

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter