Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Friday, 8 January 2010

Surgery helps girl to walk again


Charlotte Wakefield has cerebral palsy

A three-year-old girl from Dorset has undergone life-changing surgery in the US that could help her walk normally.

Charlotte Wakefield has cerebral palsy and was aided by a support frame.

The NHS offered the youngster, from Wimborne, surgery and follow up Botox injections to ease symptoms, but her family was against it.

Instead they raised £28,000 to travel to the US for a procedure to cut the nerves at the base of her spine, which has proved successful.

The operation, called selective dorsal rhizotomy, was carried out by surgeons at St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri.

It involved cutting the hyperactive nerves in Charlotte's spine which were causing problems.

'Straight legs'

Although the procedure is not a cure, it could allow her to walk more normally and learn how to run and dance in the future.

Her mother, Kim, said that before the operation her daughter had noticed her difficulty in walking.

"Charlotte's feet bend in and her hips almost swing as she walks, because her muscles are so tight," she said.

Charlotte Wakefield in hospital
Charlotte underwent a three hour operation in the US

"She has little spasms every now and again where her legs jolt and we notice now she smacks her legs when it happens as if to say "you're not doing that".

In December the family travelled to the hospital where Charlotte underwent the three-hour operation.

The procedure posed some risks as any mistakes could have left the youngster paralysed.

But her family decided to go ahead with the treatment rather than continue with what had been offered in the UK, believing that Botox injections would just "deal with her symptoms."

Surgeons in the US tested and cut about 70% of the sensory nerves at the base of Charlotte's spine during the operation.

This reduced the signals to the muscles in her legs, allowing them to relax.

The operation has been carried out in the US for 23 years.

Charlotte began physiotherapy within 48 hours of the operation.

Her parents said that for the first time in her life she was able to stand properly with her feet flat and her legs straight.

The youngster will have to undergo a follow-up assessment in the US, but her parents have already noticed the difference in her movement.

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