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Joy for Battens family as Liam (3) has first cooked meal in eight months

TODDLER Liam Heffernan, who underwent pioneering brain surgery in the US, is eating cooked meals again for the first time in eight months,.

The brave three-year-old suffers from Battens disease, a rare neuro-degenerative disease which claimed the life of his sister Saoirse (5) in January.

He travelled to the US in May for stem cell therapy, which involved drilling six holes in his skull to allow gene transfer treatment to be administered to 12 locations in his brain. Parents Tony and Mary Heffernan were told that without treatment, Liam may not survive past his fourth birthday.

"Liam is doing really well, we crossed another milestone this week when he ate his first cooked meal -- and he fed himself in playschool -- for the first time since late last year," Tony told the Herald.

"He stopped eating solid food in January when his condition deteriorated but now he's progressed to things like mince and potatoes." The family from Keel, Co Kerry were due to fly back to New York so Liam could get a check up at the prestigious Weill Cornell Hospital.

However, doctors were pleased with his progress and allowed him to stay in Ireland until November when he will have to return for a six-month check-up.

Tony added: "We miss Saoirse every day, the last few weeks have been exceptionally hard as we've actually had time to think of what had happened."