After undergoing major surgery in the United States 12 months ago, life could not be any more different for North Otago girl Charlee McLachlan.
The 5-year-old was diagnosed with cerebral palsy in 2014 after she underwent an MRI scan for an issue related to her lungs.
Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of disabling conditions which affect movement and posture.
In Charlee’s case, her right leg was shorter than her left and she struggled to do everyday things such as climbing into bed, getting dressed, sitting on the floor, sitting on a seat, walking, running and riding her bike.
In April 2017, she underwent a successful selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) at the St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri.
The procedure involved the opening the lumbar area of her back, the removal of the spinal cord and electronic testing of the sensory nerve fibres. The operation is a permanent cure for spasticity.
Charlee’s mother, Anna McLachlan, said since the operation she had exceeded all expectations in terms of both recovery and her ability to perform everyday tasks and activities.
“She doesn’t slow down for anything really. We knew she would be better off, but didn’t expect it to be so good. In the first few months back at home, the changes were huge.
“Watching video of what she was like is really emotional .. we didn’t quite realise how bad she was because we’d seen her every day. Now that we’ve had so long with her with flat feet, it’s mind-blowing how far she has actually come in the small space of a year.”
Charlee rode a bicycle without training wheels for the first time at Christmas with some help to get going and stop.
She was also climbing gates and trees, Mrs McLachlan said.
The one thing Charlee enjoyed most was being able to do more with twin sister Jorja, albeit for a short time as she still did not have the physical stamina to keep up with her for long periods.
In February, Mrs McLachlan was told by Dr Tae Park, the surgeon who performed Charlee’s operation, that she did not required physiotherapy.
As part of her recovery, Charlee was doing daily stretching exercises.
To help with her recovery, her parents were now considering working with United Kingdom-based Walk This Way, a specialist therapy centre for people who have cerebral palsy, with a focus on pre and post-operative SDR.
“The benefits for other kids we’ve seen that have done this a year or two down the track is huge, so we’re hoping we can save up and do that for her.”
As far as the future was concerned, Mrs McLachlan said Charlee had “massive” self-confidence and was keen to explore her potential.
“It’s about her believing in herself and encouraging her to do things that aren’t simple for her.”