Steps in the right direction
THIS time last year, nine-year-old Glen Wilkie was recovering at home in Foynes after life changing surgery in the US that could see him walk for the very first time.
Now, after a year of intense physiotherapy to strengthen his legs, the inspiring young boy is making steady progress and says his dreams of climbing hills and playing soccer with his friends will one day become a reality.
With a larger than life personality and oodles of cuteness to boot, Glen comes across the same as any other boy his age - sitting at the kitchen table, playing on his computer and chatting about Christmas and school. But underneath the cool exterior, lies a dogged determination that would put many of us twice and three times his age to shame.
As he chatted to The Kerryman along with mum Margaret about his progress over the past year and the long road to recovery, Glen's perserverance was admirable.
Despite a two-hour physiotherapy session every day before and after school, the young lad is well aware of how important it all is - and is making the most of it.
"It's not really physio, it's more like fun physio," the youngster admits, eyeing up his mum's reaction. "Sometimes it can be hard but the things I'm looking forward to most are walking up the hill with my friends and playing soccer, so I know I have to do it."
When asked if he felt those dreams would soon become a reality, the confident youngster said simply: 'Soon enough.'
Glen was born 12 weeks premature and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy before he was two years of age. It soon became apparent that he wasn't going to walk and as the years passed by, Glen got around with the help of a tripod walker or wheelchair, or simply being carried.
For years, parents David and Margaret were repeatedly told that Glen's condition would get progressively worse, to the stage where his legs would tighten even more and he would be completely wheelchair bound in adulthood. It wasn't until he was eight years of age that the family became aware of a procedure called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy - a rehabilitating surgery which has been carried out in St Louis Hospital in Missouri for decades.
After doing their own research, the Wilkies embarked on a massive fundraising campaign in early 2012 to raise the €60,000 needed for Glen's surgery.
The response was immense, not only raising enough funds to cover cost of the operation, but also to provide physiotherapy equipment at home.
Margaret explained that people with Cerebral Palsy suffer from spasticity or stiffness in their muscles and in Glen's case it affected his legs primarily. He couldn't stand, sit or walk unaided and his legs had to be prised open to dress or move about.
He also lacked balance and was prone to falling or tilting over when sitting by himself. The three hour surgery, which was carried out in November 2012, saw neuro surgeon Dr TS Park cut the abnormal dorsal rootlets in Glen's spine that cause spasticity, Margaret explained.
Now, Glen's prognosis is a far cry from what the Wilkies were told a few years ago. He will walk and run and even play soccer, with doctors predicting that he will be completely mobile within two years of the operation.
At the moment, he can sit on his own and can walk while holding onto someone. The progress is slow, Margaret admits, but his current ability is something she never dreamt of.
"He's sitting on his own without falling over, he's walking while holding our hands, he walks along holding onto one parallel bar and he's even balancing by himself for the most of two minutes," she said. "The progress is slow, but if you asked me two years ago if I could ever have imagined him doing these simple things, I'd have said absolutely not," she said.
"To see the progress he has made is amazing and we are so grateful to his surgeon who has made this possible, not to mention the thousands of people who supported our fundraising. It would not have been possible without them."
As for Glen, my suggestion that he'd soon be running away from a queue of girls may not have gone down well - but playing for his beloved Man United is very much on his to-do list!
And if determination and perseverance is all it takes to make that dream come true - he'll be on the first 11 in no time!