A 10-year-old with cerebral palsy who travelled to the USA for pioneering surgery in the hope of one day being able to walk unaided has taken his first independent steps.
Riccardo Dotolo, from Borras Park, Wrexham, was diagnosed with diplegic cerebral palsy as a baby.
The surgery he needed to give him a shot at a better life – the micro-neurosurgery Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) – is not currently funded by the NHS in Wales, despite having been commissioned for some children in England.
That meant a trip to the USA for the life-changing surgery at St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, costing about £60,000 including pre and post-operation therapy.
Brave Riccardo underwent the first operation on April 3 and had two more surgeries on April 15 before returning home at the beginning of May.
Proud mum Franca told how she and her son are “thrilled” with the results.
She said: “People say it is amazing because they saw what he was like before the surgery. He stands up tall now because his posture has improved so much.
“The first thing he tells people is ‘I took two independent steps’ because he is so proud.
“His confidence has shot up as well. Six weeks after the surgery he was walking with crutches.”
Riccardo undergoes an intensive therapy regime several days a week, as well as travelling to Cardiff for specialist sessions costing £800 for 10 hours.
Mrs Dotolo added: “The cost doesn’t bother us because we know it is helping our son have a better life.”
Welsh health bosses have argued there is a “lack of clinical evidence” about the effectiveness of the treatment which Riccardo wants, which involves identifying and cutting the spinal nerves causing stiffness and pain in cerebral palsy sufferers
Last year, a 2,000-signature petition was delivered to the steps of the Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay by the ‘Support for SDR Wales’ campaign group, calling on ministers to introduce the pioneering procedure in Wales’ hospitals.
In July, the NHS announced 120 SDR operations would be carried out in England every year in a pilot scheme.
But there are still no plans to make the treatment available on the NHS in Wales