THE year 2012 looks set to be a great one for a five-year-old who is learning to walk for the first time.
James O’Hagan got the best Christmas present ever after returning from having revolutionary surgery in the USA a couple of weeks ago and taking his first ever steps.
The Worthing schoolboy has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, meaning his legs were previously very stiff and he could only stand on his tip toes. But since the surgery he has amazed his parents Brian and Grace by starting to walk unaided.
Brian, 40, of Hurst Avenue, said: “His body has changed completely. His lower body has no stiffness now and he can do things he couldn’t do before.
“It’s been hugely emotional and there’s been an amount of disbelief really. It’s just been joyous and it’s a very exciting time.
“We’re hopeful it’s going to be a very positive year and that by the end of it James will be walking.”
James had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) surgery in St Louis, Missouri, in November. The family spent a month in America while James recovered, and it was shortly after returning to the UK in mid-December that James took his first unaided steps.
He will now have to have intensive physiotherapy for the foreseeable future, to give the operation the best chance of working to its fullest potential.
Brian said: “The operation was only half the work really, and James will have to have a lot of physio but he’s being really good about it.”
The family had to raise £45,000 to pay for the surgery to be performed in the USA, as the operation is not offered in the UK on the NHS. It was carried out at the world’s leading centre for the treatment of cerebral palsy, and was performed by expert in the field Dr T. S. Park.
Through a series of fund-raising events, Brian and Grace, 45, managed to raise around £52,000, the surplus from which will be used to fund James’ physiotherapy.
But the couple said they may still hold another fund-raiser this summer, as there is equipment they could buy which would help James, such as a special trike, which they cannot currently afford.
“If we do it, we won’t go at it like last year, but we may just do something,” Brian said.
In the future, Brian said he would like to see the operation offered for free in this country, so other families could enjoy the same benefits as James.
Brian added: “Throughout the whole experience I kept thinking about families who can’t afford it or can’t raise the money they need for their children to have the operation.
“It’s heart-breakng, as even if James made no more progress the difference in him already is amazing.
“I hope it is soon available in the UK as James has more confidence now – it’s just made such a difference to his life.”