A brave girl who faced a lifetime in a wheelchair made an emotional return home to the north-east yesterday after undergoing pioneering spinal surgery in the United States.
The medical experts who carried out the complex procedure in St Louis have told Isla McNab and her family that she could be walking again by Christmas.
Isla’s mother, Jane, said last night that her daughter, who turned 10 while away from her home in Fraserburgh, is “up for the challenge” and has made it her goal to be back on her feet by the end of the year.
Jane and her husband, Robert, raised enough money to fly Isla – who was born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy – out to St Louis for a ground-breaking selective dorsal rhizotomy.
The procedure, which involves cutting away damaged nerves at the base of the spine, was a huge step forward for a young girl who has never been able to walk unaided before.
Before tucking into a long-overdue Burns supper last night, Mrs McNab said: “We’re pleased to be home and everything went really well.
“She turned 10 while she was out there. She left with old legs aged nine, and came home with new legs aged 10.”
Mrs McNab explained that Dr Park’s initial prediction when they met him on January 1 was that, if the procedure was successful, Isla could be walking within two years.
“That was always the case, and we knew that from the beginning.
“But when we saw him on Friday, Dr Park reckoned that within the year she’ll be able to start walking around the house.
“That’s very good news as far as we’re concerned because it shows how well the operation went.
“We know what the doctor’s prediction is and we have no doubt it will come true.”
While in the United States, the medical team at St Louis Children’s Hospital operated a second time to stretch Isla’s hamstrings when it was discovered that one of her legs was longer than the other.
Now Isla and her parents are facing months of intense physiotherapy to build up 10-year-old muscles which have never supported her unaided before.
Mrs McNab said that Isla will work hard with the physiotherapist.
She said: “Kids being kids, if they’re not keen on physio it can be an uphill battle. But Isla has accepted the challenge and knows if she works hard she’ll be able to walk to the Christmas tree.
“That’s her goal. She’s up for it. We all are.”
Grandfather Ronnie McNab’s fundraising efforts in Fraserburgh helped raise more than £80,000 to get Isla back on her feet.
Last night he added: “She won’t be walking right away. According to the prognosis of the doctor, she should be walking independently in a year or two’s time.
“Everybody’s over the moon with the progress she’s making. The staff in the hospital were fantastic and they were delighted with the progress she is making.
“The fact she’s home is a sign it was so successful. If it hadn’t been she’d probably have had to stay a little while longer. I’m so pleased she’s been let home.”
Speaking when Isla’s surgery was confirmed at the end of last year, Dr Park said: “For more than two decades, I’ve done my best to tackle the problems inherent to cerebral palsy in patients still young enough to benefit from surgical intervention.”
Dr Park stressed the operation could not cure cerebral palsy, but added: “Children who were once told they would never walk can now swim, dance, and play with their friends.”
The St Andrew’s School pupil is not the first child from the north-east to be treated by the surgeon, Dr Tae S Park, in St Louis.
Three-year-old Peterhead boy Dylan Parsons had a successful selective dorsal rhizotomy last year and is on the road to recovery.