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Lost all my data. help

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i have windows xp OS. had avg free anti virus.
my hard drive has been partitioned into a number of sections.
one such 40 gb partition suddenly stopped opening.
evertime i tried to open it, the computer would get stuck for a while and then say that the disk needs to be formatted and ask me if it should format it.
i always clicked on no.
gave the computer to some repair guy who said the data can be recovered, but now they are saying it cannot be recovered.
my computer had some virus in it which they say they've removed.
they will format that drive that wasnt opening and i will get it back, but wont get my data.

is there any way for me to recover it?
it was mostly photos, word files, pdfs and so on. all data. no programs.

also, in another such partition the same problem happened with one folder, which the repair guys say cannot be fixed and i will have to lose the data in that particular folder, while the rest of the drive is fine.

why did this happen?
is there any way to recover all the data that was in the drive that got wiped out?
how do i prevent this from happening again?

i'm sorry for being so ignorant about this, but well, that's wht i'm here asking for help.
please help.
i want my data back :-(

thank you
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