VIDEO: Dereham’s little hero, Blake, takes his first steps following life-changing SDR surgery
Little Blake Barley has taken his first steps completely unaided after the success of life-changing surgery in America.
Within hours of the operation, made possible by an amazing response from the local community, the three-year-old from Dereham had a greater range of movement in his feet – and he was up and out of bed just a few days later.
Now, after intensive therapy to build his strength and confidence, Blake is home and has started to move around without his wheelchair, walking frame or sticks, to the delight of parents Luke and Debbie.
'It's been amazing, I can't believe the difference a two-and-a-half-hour operation has made to his life,' Mrs Barley said.
'It wasn't always easy. There was pain and at times tears. But he never refused any physiotherapy and he worked so hard for three gruelling weeks.
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'We will continue the hard work needed to make Blake as strong as possible, encourage him when he falters and celebrate his successes.
'There is still a long road ahead for our little man and our family, but we now have the foundations to make a real difference to his future.'
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A last-minute cancellation saw Blake and his family jetting off to America earlier than expected and the operation was performed on December 20.
Blake is looking forward to a brighter future thanks to the fund-raising efforts of well-wishers across Norfolk.
More than �75,000 has been raised since the launch of Blake's Wish to Walk appeal in July. The EDP's sister paper the Dereham Times backed the appeal and the response was incredible.
Doctors hope Blake could be walking independently in all environments within a year.
The family has been eager to spread the news since they set off with Blake for his operation at the St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri.
Previously, Blake had to rely on a walking frame and wheelchair to get about. He was born 10 weeks early and developed a form of cerebral palsy after suffering a bleed on his brain.
Permanent stiffness in his leg muscles meant he could only walk on tiptoes and needed to wear leg splints to force his heels to the ground.
The medical procedure, called selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), has enabled him to stand with his feet almost totally flat. Now Blake must work to strengthen the previously unused muscles in his legs.
His family broke down in tears when he showed off his new skills less than three weeks after surgery.
'He blew our socks off,' his mum said. 'Our baby boy walked barefoot for the first time in his life without any help.
'Not only that, he walked the entire length of the hotel corridor – some 45 metres.
'Within three hours of surgery, the amount of movement in his feet was much better. He has strength in his own muscles now and it's no longer the spasticity keeping him standing.
'He started walking with his frame to begin with, and then, exactly two weeks after surgery, he started to walk with his new canes – and we put the frame away forever.'
Blake spent 24 hours in intensive care after the operation and was on strict bed rest for two days.
He was allowed to get up for a while on December 23 and underwent two physiotherapy sessions on Christmas Eve when he tried tentatively to stand for the first time.
'Blake found it very difficult and frightening to start with,' Mrs Barley said.
'His legs were like jelly and he was shaky.'
After physiotherapy in the morning, Blake was discharged on Christmas Day and went back to hospital for daily sessions after that.
The therapy was made as fun as possible in order to keep him interested and his parents will continue to work with him to improve his mobility.
The operation was really just the beginning of Blake's journey.
'The surgery has given him the potential to do great things, but he must work hard at it and be active for the rest of his life,' said his mother.
Meanwhile, Blake is wearing his first-ever pair of trainers and looking forward to riding a normal bike, thanks to his supporters.
And Blake's mum again expressed the family's heartfelt appreciation to those who joined them in giving him a better quality of life.
She said: 'We would just like to say a massive thank you to every single person who has helped us and supported us on this very special journey.
'To be honest, thank you is not nearly enough to express the gratitude that we feel.'