A Coleraine mum has made an impassioned plea for help in her bid to raise the money needed for an life-changing operation for her son.
As a parent you want to make sure your children have everything they need in life, especially when it comes to their health. Charlene Dickey and her husband Neil are no different.
On August 16, 2008, Charlene gave birth to her first child Oliver. Weighing only 5lb 6oz he spent two weeks in the neo-natal unit in Antrim Area Hospital as he was six weeks premature.
But everything seemed fine as he was given the all clear to come home, much to the delight of his parents.
“We were over the moon when we were told we could take him home,” Charlene told The Coleraine Times.
“Those first few months flew in and he seemed to be progressing really well. His wee personality was beginning to shine through. He had us all wrapped around his little finger.”
Things were about to change though as Oliver approached his first birthday.
“We knew something wasn’t right,” explained Charlene. “He wasn’t reaching the same milestones as other babies his age. He couldn’t balance well, he couldn’t sit or crawl.
“We went to see our doctor who arranged for Oliver to start some physiotherapy sessions, but unfortunately we couldn’t see any improvement. Eventually after being referred to a paediatrician Oliver was sent for an MRI scan.
“In April 2010 we attended the hospital to be told the devastating news that our beautiful wee baby had cerebral palsy.
“Oliver was diagnosed in having a type of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia, which means that his legs are very tight and he can be in a lot of pain at times.
“We were told Oliver might not be able to walk, but it couldn’t be confirmed until he was older. All we could do was give him as much support as we could to try and get him stronger and pray for the best.”
A new arrival in the Dickey household brought an improvement about for Oliver in September that year.
“After our second son was born we did start to see wee improvements with Oliver,” continued Charlene.
“He started to crawl properly and pull himself up on the furniture. But when Max started walking at 10 months it brought home to us how bad Oliver’s cerebral palsy was.”
Once he started nursery school and eventually Millburn Primary School Oliver himself started to realise he was different to the other kids.
“Oliver just loves school. The kids in his class are brilliant with him, they push him around in his chair, they draw him pictures to take home, they never leave him out,” said Charlene.
“But he knows he is different. He came home one day and said ‘mummy the boys and girls can jump in the puddles but I can’t’. It’s difficult for us when he says wee things like that, it’s wee things like that which people take for granted.”
Charlene though hopes the surgery will help give Oliver some independence back, although getting him there is proving to be a real battle.
“There has been a lot of obstacles in our way,” she explained.
“The surgery we have looked at is called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR), in simple terms they will cut the dead nerve endings away from the spine and this allows the ones which do work to perform properly.
“When we enquired about the surgery through the NHS we were told Oliver wasn’t suitable. One consultant basically told us to accept that Oliver will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“But there was no way we were going to give up on him. Oliver is such a bright, happy wee boy. He doesn’t have any cognitive problems.
“We heard about a hospital in America who perform the operation, so we sent all his medical information off to them.
“And just before Christmas we received an email from Dr Park from the St. Louis Children’s Hospital to say he thinks Oliver is an excellent candidate for the surgery. He expects that after surgery Oliver will walk independantly at least in a protected environment.
“This was huge news for us. We asked Oliver what he would like to do if he was able to walk and his answer was to be able to pick his toys up again if he drops them.
“Something like that may not seem like much to some but it means the world to him. It would give him independence.
“We know he’s not going to get up and run a football pitch or have the same quality of life as other children, but it will make a huge difference to Oliver.
“He suffers a lot of pain, especially at night but the operation will help take away the pain for him.
“But through it all he is such a happy wee boy, it doesn’t dampen him at all. He has been on the phone to everyone saying ‘Dr Park is going to help me walk’.”
Charlene and her husband know they have a big challenge ahead of them to raise the £60,000, but already they have been overwhelmed by the support they have received since they put their campaign online.
“The last few days have been crazy,” said Charlene. “Since we put up our Just Giving page along with the Facebook and Twitter pages it has just taken off.
“”We really can’t thank people enough for the support we have received already. My phone has been red hot over the last few days, it really is overwhelming how kind people are.
“We appreciate any help that people can give us, even £1 will make a difference.
“We haven’t arranged any dates with the hospital yet as we have to wait and see how the appeal goes. We need four full weeks in America plus 12 months of intensive physiotherapy and any equipment he’ll need after it so it will take a big effort to get us to our target.
“It will be worth it though as this will be life changing for Oliver, and for us as a family!
“We are planning a number of fundraising events the first of which should be a sponsored walk relay. We will release more information very soon.
“Should we exceed the target amount, or if we do not raise enough funds the funds raised will go to the general funds of Tree of Hope to assist other sick children.”
If you would like to donate to Oliver’s fund you can do so in several ways:
via justgiving.com/helpweeoliverwalk, by texting HWOW60 plus your amount from £1 to £10 to 70070 or by visiting the Danske Bank at the Diamond, Coleraine.