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The operation that changed Charlotte Wakefield's life
Little Charlotte Wakefield’s big grin, as she took small steps using her special canes, said it all.
The brave Corfe Mullen youngster was back at nursery school this week just five weeks after undergoing a life-changing operation in an American hospital.
And if things continue to go as well, the prediction is that she will not only walk unaided, but dance and play sport as well.
“She’s doing brilliantly,” said relieved mum Kim Wakefield, 39, who celebrated her birthday 4,000 miles away from home in Missouri, where surgeons cut sensory nerve fibres in her daughter’s spinal cord to help her walk unaided.
The emphasis for Charlotte, who will be four on January 27, is now on physiotherapy to strengthen under-used muscles and teach her to walk on her heels rather than her toes.
“It’s a bit like waking up with a new pair of legs and saying, ‘Who gave me these?’” said dad Steve, 47.
For her parents it was an emotional rollercoaster as they waited nervously through the three-and-a-half hour operation.
“If I had another child with the same condition, I would definitely do it again,” said Kim. “It’s been a huge gamble and an awful lot of money, but it’s been worth it.
“The last few weeks have been very up and down. There have been lots of highs and lows. I got very upset and emotional, saying, ‘I want to go home, I don’t want to be here at Christmas.’”
“But we knew that one Christmas for Charlotte away from her friends and family would be worth it.”
The family staked everything on selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery to secure Charlotte’s long-term independence after Kim saw an item on breakfast TV about the surgery offered at the St Louis Children’s Hospital.
“When we saw her after the operation, that was hard,” said Kim. “We had taken a fit and healthy child to a hospital in America, and when she came round she was so weak she could hardly move.
“The concern was that paralysis could occur. She had plaster casts on both legs to stretch her muscles, which have worked fantastically well.
“One week later Charlotte had obviously decided she’d had enough and started crawling and climbing on the furniture!”
Charlotte’s cerebral palsy meant she has had to use a walker to get about. And while the operation will not cure that condition, the spasticity in her legs has gone.
Kim praised the team at the St Louis Children’s hospital for the skill and care with which Charlotte was treated, describing leading surgeon Dr T S Park as “the most ‘human’ doctor I have met in my life!”
Nurses have taught Charlotte’s parents the techniques needed for a daily massage to stretch and strengthen the muscles in her legs.
Kim estimates the family spent more than £35,000 on the cost of the operation, flights, and hotel bills for their month-long stay in the States, exhausting their savings and forcing them to borrow money from family and friends.
A fundraising event is planned in February at the Parkstone Trades and Labour Club in February. To back Charlotte, email firstname.lastname@example.org.