Brave George bids to take first steps

Fund-raising campaign launched to give youngster chance of life-changing US op.

A FOUR-year-old boy unable to walk due to cerebral palsy has been offered the chance of a life-changing operation in America.

Braunton youngster George Palmer could soon be taking his first steps after being told he is eligible for selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) surgery at a specialist children’s hospital.

Elated parents Nicki and Gary received an email on Friday telling them that he meets the strict criteria for the revolutionary procedure at the St Louis Children’s Hospital, in Missouri.

The operation, which involves cutting away nerve endings at the base of the spine that do not work properly, is not automatically available on the NHS and they must now raise �55,000 to give George the chance of walking unaided for the first time.

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Nicki said life ‘stopped’ in September 2007 when doctors told them that their newborn baby boy, born six weeks early weighing 4lb 14oz, would never walk, talk or know who his parents were.

“There was no preparation; no warning signs that anything was wrong,” Nicki told the Gazette.

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“I’d gone through a normal pregnancy but an MRI scan revealed that George had suffered a major brain haemorrhage at some point before he was born.

“It broke my heart to think that he’d never be able to communicate with anyone. We were completely shattered but I did promise George that if there were two things I could do for him it would be to help him to talk and walk.”

After the birth, Nicki, 35, gave up her job as an IT trainer to look after George, while Gary, 37, continued his work as a licensing manager for a software company.

Nicki said: “Normally at six-to-18-months a lot of development happens but when George didn’t hit any milestones it broke my heart. It destroyed me.

“The guilt and not knowing why it happened made me feel quite depressed but George is now completely and utterly exceeding expectations and is continually proving medical professionals wrong.”

Regular physiotherapy at the Footsteps Centre in Oxfordshire, and at Brainwave in Somerset, have helped George to be able to sit up on his own, commando crawl along the floor, and even stand up at the sofa.

Registered blind by Great Ormond Street Hospital, constant visual stimulation has helped improve the connection between his eyes and brain.

“It has changed to the point where he is very able to do things for himself, interact, and even help to feed and dress himself,” said Nicki.

“His speech has also changed massively and he can now use two-to-three word sentences to hold a conversation in his own way.

“George is a little superstar. He is bright, funny and loveable – full of personality, grit and determination despite the difficulties and hurdles he faces on a daily basis. All he needs is help so that his life can be changed for ever.”

The couple found out about SDR after watching an item on GMTV a couple of years ago and have been cautiously researching the procedure ever since.

After reading about its success rate and following the progress of hundreds of British families who have been to the same hospital during the last 20 years, they sent details of an MRI brain scan, hip and spine x-rays and video footage of George’s movements to neurosurgeons in the US.

“We only sent off the documents at the beginning of the month, so to get confirmation on Friday that George meets the criteria was a very emotional moment.

“The specialists feel he is an excellent candidate and expect that he will be able to walk independently with a walker, and may be able to walk using crutches.

“The little boy whom they said would never be able to do anything has now been given the chance of surgery that could change his life in such a massive way.”

The couple have been waiting two months for an initial appointment with an SDR consultant at Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital but have decided to grasp the chance being offered to them in America.

“The time is critical for George,” said Nicki.

“He’s the ideal age to have the operation before any long-term deformities or problems kick in.

“He starts school in September and if we are able to raise the money in time, he could be walking and playing with his friends this time next year.”

Nicki and Gary have launched a campaign to help fund the cost of the �33,000 operation, as well as flights to America; accommodation for one month; intensive post-surgery physiotherapy; and long-term physiotherapy and necessary equipment on their return to the UK.

Since being launched on Friday, the campaign, George’s First Steps, has raised more than �2,000 in the first weekend and Nicki and Gary are hopeful they can pull the money together in time for an operation in November.

“Everyone’s getting involved, including my employers,” said Nicki, who works part-time in the cookware department in Banbury’s.

“Family and friends have all been brilliant and we’re planning lots of fund-raising events for George throughout the year.”

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