On the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Health reporter Pamela McGowan reveals what the health service means to her and her family:

As health reporter for Cumbrian Newspapers, I've had the privilege of interviewing and telling the stories of many people whose lives have been saved by the NHS.

I report on the pressures facing our local hospitals and health services, and have utmost respect for the staff working within them. But I also have my own personal reasons for celebrating the 70th birthday of the NHS.

It saved my dad's life when I was just 17, and has also helped my little boy through some serious health problems.

I've never written my own story before, but felt today's anniversary was an apt time to share it:

Melvyn's story:

It’s 20 years since my dad almost died.

When I say almost, I mean came as close as you possibly can.

He contracted a rare flesh-eating bug called necrotising fasciitis. It's so rare that nobody realised what it was at first, and once they did they had to act fast.

The bacteria had targeted his leg and was eating away at a rate of about two inches an hour. If it wasn't stopped quickly it would get past his leg towards his organs.

In the end the only option was to amputate – and hope.

I was just 17 at the time. My brother Terry, who found dad collapsed at home, was just 15.

I remember getting back from college and being told dad was in hospital, but I don’t think I realised how poorly he was until much later.

It was February 18, 1998. Before that my dad, Melvyn McGowan, was a fit and healthy 45-year-old, working full time as a painter and decorator.

People ask how he caught the flesh-eating bug. Nobody knows. He only had a bad cold. The next thing we knew he was at death’s door.

The way it was described to me was that it was similar to meningitis. The bacteria was potentially lying dormant in his system, then seized an opportunity of weakness to attack. Once in his bloodstream it was potentially lethal.

Dad was off work sick, which was rare for him, and the doctor said he had mild flu. He remembers getting up to answer the phone and twisting his leg. We can only presume that’s why it took hold there and not somewhere else.

Even when he collapsed there was nothing to see. Terry was off school for half term and had been at a neighbour's house, but luckily returned home.

Dad shouted of him and told him to ring my mum, Gillian, who was at work. She said to phone an ambulance, then ring my grandad, who lived nearby.

The ambulance arrived and took him to the West Cumberland Hospital, and mum met them at A&E. She said dad was still conscious. They weren't sure what was wrong so started to run tests. Once in A&E the symptoms started to appear.

As he worsened, they told mum they thought it was necrotising faciitis. Dad was put in an induced coma while consultants tried to treat it with drugs.

At the time we lived at Brigham, near Cockermouth, but I was in Carlisle – where I was studying at the art college – when it all happened. It was in the days before everyone had mobiles, so I was completely unaware of what was going on.

I only have a vague recollection of being told the news. I know that everyone underplayed it, so I didn’t panic.

I think my grandparents even made sure we’d had tea before taking me and my brother through to the hospital.

The timeline is a bit hazy but I remember going to see him in intensive care, and that’s when it really hit home that he was really poorly.

He was unconscious and didn’t really look like dad. His hair was swept back and his face was puffy. I remember him having a strange inflatable cover over the top of his body that was helping to regulate his temperature.

I don’t think I cried at the time. If anything I was in a kind of shock. At one point I know there were three senior doctors talking to us about what was happening. There was an anaesthetist, a surgeon and a microbiologist I think.

They said they were trying to get the right mix of drugs to combat the bacteria, but that it was very serious and the long term effects on his organs could be catastrophic.

I was at the hospital when they decided to amputate.

They'd taken dad to theatre to see if they could remove the affected tissue, but it wasn't working and time was running out.

I have a strong memory of rushing down to the theatre with mum and Terry. Outside Mahesh Dhebar - the surgeon who ultimately saved his life – told us that an amputation was his only hope, but he needed our consent. I remember a brief discussion with mum, and us agreeing they just had to do whatever they could. She signed the forms, then we went back upstairs and waited.

Dad made it through the operation - with his leg amputated as far up as posssible, to give him any chance - then was back in intensive care (ITU) to fight for his life.

I remember staying with mum that first night. Dad was in his own room on the old intensive care ward, on the top floor of the hospital. We were given a room with two beds, between ITU and the chapel.

I’m not particularly religious but I remember vaguely praying, thinking anything was worth a shot. I had moments where it dawned on me that I was probably going to lose my dad. It felt surreal. Like I was watching it all unfold, but it was happening to someone else. I still didn't really cry at that point, though I did later.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, dad faced an almighty battle. Even with his leg amputated, he wasn’t out of the woods. He remained on ITU, attached to every machine going - breathing tubes, dialysis machines, heart monitors - and we were warned he may have long term damage to his organs.

He was kept in an induced coma while they gradually worked on him. I remember talking to my brother about giving him a kidney if he needed one, so we must have been told that was one of the risks. In total he was in intensive care for nine and a half weeks.

Every morning staff would give my mum a worse case scenario, and if that didn't happen she knew it was a good day.

Yet dad amazed everyone. He clearly had a determination to survive, and being generally healthy beforehand also helped his chances.

When he eventually came round, he was very weak and frail, having lost so much weight due to the illness. He couldn't even lift his hand, and had to build all of his muscles back up from scratch. But the physios at the hospital were there every day, and in between dad would be working away as best he could on the exercises they'd shown him.

He also couldn’t speak for a good while due to the tracheostomy. As his hands strengthened he tried to write things down, but just put letters on top of letters. We tried to lip read, clearly badly, resulting in him getting frustrated and rolling his eyes.

Although dad was improving, we had to break the news to him that he'd lost his leg. At first he wouldn't accept it, he was convinced it was still there. Once it sunk in though, he took the news quite well and seemed to appreciate he was lucky just to be here.

One thing he didn't take quite so well was the football. Anyone who knows my dad will tell you he's obsessed with Manchester United. He kept looking at us and mouthing "football?".

Tentatively, we had to explain that while he'd been in a coma, his beloved Man U had seen their form drop, resulting in a disastrous end to season. We left it for one of the doctors to tell him we'd been knocked out of the FA Cup by Barnsley. I think at that point he would have happily gone back in the coma.

When he was finally deemed well enough to leave ITU, dad was moved onto the orthopedic ward. He stepped up his physio but one of the biggest battles was his wound, which was more like a crater where his leg used to be. The healing process was long and painful.

Me and my brother visited dad most days. Mum was amazing. She went twice a day without fail, trekking to Whitehaven before work, still somehow managing to make sure we had food in the house, then taking us to hospital for evening visiting.

In among it all, I still had a teenage social life to keep up and she was determined we would try and keep things as normal as possible. Some nights I’d sit talking to dad while putting on my make up on to go out. The nurses thought it was hilarious.

The staff at Whitehaven were brilliant. They held us together. My mum says they were like an extended family, and that's genuinely how it felt. They went above all expectations, and dad repaid them by working hard.

One of my favourite memories of that time was arriving at the hospital to find him in the corridor on a zimmer frame, grinning from ear to ear. It was a huge achievement so early in his recovery.

Dad finally came home after five months, in the summer before I went to university. Having him home was fantastic. He had been through so much but somehow was still here, and still the Melvyn we knew.

Jokes aside, his determination to get back to Old Trafford was one of the things that spurred him on, and the next season Man U won the treble so the team were clearly happy to have him back.

Twenty years on and dad is still amazing. He rarely needs a wheelchair, instead using crutches to get around.

He still suffers a lot from phantom pains, including cramp in a leg he hasn't got. He tries his best to get on with it, but not many people realise he is in constant pain.

Yet he remains positive and never really dwells on losing his leg. To him, it was the price he had to pay for his life.

As a family we will never forget what the NHS did for dad, and for us. A&E staff, the intensive care team, doctors, staff on the wards and district nurses who looked after him at home, they all played a part.

Ironically the West Cumberland Hospital no longer deals with trauma surgery so these days dad would have to be transferred to Carlisle by ambulance, a delay that would probably cost him his life.

To me, dad's story shows how important NHS services are to their communities. His case was rare, but he is still here.

Aaron's story:

It isn't just my dad that has needed the NHS.

My little boy Aaron has been in and out of hospital since he was a baby.

Just before his second birthday he underwent major surgery on his head and was in intensive care immediately after.

Aaron, now five, was born a healthy baby, just over a week early.

Throughout the early months he had no real problems, but I'd noticed a lump in between his eyes that seemed to be getting bigger.

We saw the GP, who thought it might be a dermoid cyst - a weird abnormal growth that he had been born with - and referred us to paediatrics.

Aaron had his first general anaesthetic at seven months old, so that he would lie still for an MRI scan. It was scary, because he was so small and had never had anything stronger than Calpol - but had to be done.

The MRI confirmed a dermoid cyst, but at this stage they didn't think it was growing into his skull, so removal would be fairly simple.

However, while waiting for an operation date, Aaron suddenly developed a huge red lump on his forehead that was growing.

It turned out that the cyst had become infected and he was sent across to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle for surgery, before it burst.

It was his first ever operation and very traumatic for me and partner Mark, but Aaron, who had just turned one, took it in his stride.

In the end the infection turned out to be a positive. It meant he was taken onto the books of a senior specialist, who decided the cyst might not just be on surface as initially thought. He ordered a CT scan, which meant another general anaesthetic for poor Aaron but was worth it to get a more detailed diagnosis. It turned out, as the consultant had feared, that the cyst was growing through the skull into his head.

The news was difficult to take. All of a sudden a relatively simple procedure to remove the cyst had turned into a much more complex operation.

Aaron had to see a neurosurgeon, and a date for surgery was booked.

When they explained the operation it was quite horrific. They needed to break into the front of Aaron's skull to get to the cyst inside.

They said they would cut along the skin further up - ear to ear, but under his hair - to avoid major scarring

Once inside they would remove the cyst, then rebuild his skull using fake bone and metal, and staple the skin back together.

He went in for surgery in October 2014, a month before his second birthday. Although I had confidence in the two surgeons and anaesthetist, I was also fully aware of the risks.

I remember taking a deep breath and signing the consent form, then trying not to think about what could go wrong.

There wasn't any real choice. We needed to get the cyst out or it would grow inside his head, causing all kinds of problems.

The worst part was waiting while he was in theatre. The operation took about five hours, but it felt like days.

When they came to tell us it was done, the relief was immense. Then came the shock of seeing him for the first time. His head was all out of shape and stapled together and his eyes were all swollen. You try to stay strong for him, so he doesn't worry, but you also can't stop the tears.

He'd needed some extra blood during the surgery, but generally it had gone to plan and was going into intensive care for observation.

Seeing him scared and in pain was awful but the nurses were fantastic. They kept him calm and as a result, helped me stay calm.

Aaron was a star. At one point he awoke with two black eyes and couldn't see because his face was so swollen, but he kept on smiling.

Throughout our time in hospital we met many families whose children were poorly. Some were undergoing cancer treatment, others had severe disabilities, burns or life-limiting conditions.

In many ways Aaron, despite his stapled head and black eyes, was one of the lucky ones. The cyst is gone and his scars are minimal.

He's since been back in hospital for two unrelated operations - an eye operation and, just a month ago, to have his tonsils out.

He's only five, but has already benefited from the NHS multiple times. I hate to think where we'd be without it and hope the 70th anniversary celebrations help to hammer home its importance.