HERE is the evidence that little Alex Hickey is enjoying a new-found freedom.
The Whelley four-year-old is up and running around after undergoing specialist surgery in America to tackle a condition called spastic diplegia.
The form of cerebral palsy hindered the way he walked and he was prone to falls.
So parents Marie and Robert set about raising more than £40,000 in six months to pay for treatment at the St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, US.
It is surgery that is not available in Britain to patients so young and yet there is a school of thought that the sooner the condition is tackled, the better the long-term results.
Alex underwent delicate microsurgery on his spine to sever the diseased nerves that affect his gait.
And already the results have been impressive.
Now back home after intensive post-operative physiotherapy, Alex still has much work to do but is enjoying a new lease of life.
Marie said: “He has improved so much. He is still quite weak and needs building up with physio but he is walking on the flats of his feet for the first time in his life and that is wonderful.
“He does occasionally revert to running on tiptoes but that is like a bad habit he has yet to shake off. He still falls down quite a lot too.
“But the doctors are really pleased and the neurologist back home in quite amazed and there is no need to go back to see him anymore. Neither should there be any need for any more surgery.”
Marie said the family had enough money left from the charitable donations to provide physiotherapy to Alex for the next 12 months.
After six months they have to send a video of Alex running and walking to the St Louis hospital and from that progress report they will discover whether they need to go back to America for a follow-up appointment. However they have already been told that this is unlikely because Alex is already an independent walker.
The key though is persisting with the physio.
Marie added: “The surgery removes the spasticity but that just opens the gate. The hard work comes afterwards because Alex now has to build up muscles that the rest of us use all the time but he has never employed up until now.
“If you don’t do the physio you don’t get the benefit of the operation.”
The surgeon who performed the operation has told the Hickeys that if his leg and back strength exercises are maintained then no-one will ever know that Alex had cerebral palsy in two years’ time.
A key part of the physio has involved building up leg muscles on a treadmill.
But none of this could have taken place without a quite astonishing series of charitable events by family, friends and complete strangers that helped the Hickeys hit the £40,000 target that was only set at the beginning of this year.
Thousands of pounds were raised by people taking part in sponsored sky-dives while others climbed mount Snowdon. An auction and curry night made £5,400 and there were numerous smaller ventures including supermarket bag-packing sessions.