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Lilly, 14, needs overseas spinal surgery to keep dream of dancing alive

When 14-year-old Lilly Bannerman had her pictures taken for an upcoming dance application, she had no idea she would need life-changing surgery on her spine.

Since she was three years old, Lilly has had one dream – and that’s to be a professional dancer.

And it seems to be within reach when the talented Bridge of Don youngster earned a spot with the Scottish Ballet Associates, which takes on just 24 pupils from all over the UK in her age category.

However, her family was not anticipating the distressing news of a scoliosis diagnosis in February.

Lilly now needs highly invasive surgery to stop the curve in her spine progressing closer to her heart – but the operation could limit her flexibility and mobility.

Lilly Bannerman dancing at Academy Street Dance Studio

After discovering an alternative surgery that could let the aspiring dancer “continue with all that she loves to do”, the Bannermans trying to raise £40,000 to get Lilly this life-changing procedure.

‘A lot worse than anticipated’

Mum Nicola had been taking pictures of Lilly for a dance application when she noticed something wasn’t quite right.

“For one of the photographs, she had to have her back towards me,” she said.

“I said to her ‘You’re not standing straight, let me fix you’.

“I tried to fix it and realised that her back actually wasn’t straight.

“I had no idea what scoliosis was at the time – nothing at all, no idea.”

Concerned and at the height of the pandemic, Nicola sent photographs to Lilly’s GP who asked to see the youngster the next day.

After an MRI scan, a consultant told the Bannermans there was nothing he could do and that Lilly would need help from the spinal unit in Edinburgh.

There they were told the curve was “a lot worse than they’d anticipated” and is going towards her heart –making surgery “far more complicated”.

‘She just can’t picture herself not being able to dance’

Nicola said this came as a “shock” to the family as there can be mild, moderate and severe types of scoliosis.

Lilly’s diagnosis was idiopathic scoliosis, where the curvature of the spine has no known origin, and can be noticed around puberty.

In June, X-Rays showed her condition is classed as severe, and that she will need spinal fusion surgery.

Her spine will need to be strengthened with metal rods and screws – but this could impact her flexibility and mobility, hindering her dancing dreams.

However, after throwing herself into research, Nicola came across a treatment available in Europe, the United States and Turkey, which could allow Lilly to retain her flexibility.

The treatment, Vertebral Body Tethering (VBT), puts screws into the front of the spine through endoscopic surgery, and these are connected by a flexible cord rather than a metal rod.

“She just can’t picture herself not being able to dance,” Nicola said.

“This is why we’re so desperate for this operation because it means that she will be able to continue doing her dancing.

“With fusion, that they offer here in the UK, she will have to stop.

“She might be able to try and do some of the dancing, but that will never ever be a career.

“It’ll never ever be the way she was before.”

Fundraising for hope

Nicola said: “As a parent and family it’s devastating,

“It’s basically the first thing I think about in the morning, and the last thing I think about at nights.”

Lilly has an appointment in Philadelphia, USA, on August 19 for a clinical evaluation, and a doctor in Turkey has already confirmed he can operate on Lilly.

The Bannerman family must now raise £40,000 for the operation.

According to NHS, sometimes surgery may be needed to control the growth of the spine until an operation to straighten it can be done when they stop growing.

Nicola added: “It’s on my mind constantly – how we’re going to raise the money, how we’re going to get this operation, because this is the one that will help her more than what they can offer here.

“I think it’s terrifying because it’s my child, and I’m basically going to be handing my child over to people to operate on.

“She’s never been in hospital apart from when she was born, so it’s devastating and terrifying and it’s every emotion.”

Lilly Bannerman (front right) with her family. Left, sister Emily, dad Peter and mum Nicola

‘She is a lot stronger than I am’

Lilly, who dances at Aberdeen’s Academy Street Dance Studio, has also been working with the Scottish Ballet Associated for the past three years – which requires her to audition yearly to secure her place.

After weighing their options together as a family, Lilly is also adamant she wants to maintain her flexibility.

Recovery could be a difficult journey, but with VBT Lilly could be back dancing within three months.

With fusion – the metal rods option – it could be more than a year.

“She is a lot stronger than I am, but she does have down days where it’s on her mind,” Nicola added.

“She is 14 she wants to get it over with, she knows that the operation has to happen – she wants to be able to continue her life.

“She wants to be able to dance and we are trying to raise the funds so that we can do the best for her.”

To help Lilly’s cause and donate to her spinal surgery fund visit their GoFundMe page here: https://tinyurl.com/n7k8rkz6

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