LITTLE Ollie Saxton is striding towards a bright new future - thanks to readers of The Star.
The brave four-year-old is back home in Intake, Sheffield, after a five-week trip to America, where he underwent an operation to help him walk for the first time.
Now Ollie, who was born with cerebral palsy, is toddling around with the help of a wheeled stroller - and doctors think he could be walking unaided within two years.
His parents Rachel and Russell raised £43,000 to fund the procedure at St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, with help from readers of The Star.
“He is so much happier, it has made such a difference,” said proud mum Rachel, 34.
“Before he could not even kneel because his legs were so stiff, and he was so cramped all the time, which was very frustrating for him.
“Now he is so much more confident, he can walk around the house and do things independently.”
Ollie is now working hard to strengthen the muscles in his legs, which are very weak because they have never been properly used before.
He is having three sessions of physiotherapy a week and is already making tremendous progress.
“The doctor wants to start him walking on sticks already, because he finds the wheeled stroller so easy,” said Rachel, who works as a fitness instructor at Ponds Forge.
“It’s amazing how quickly he has progressed already.”
Rachel said public generosity has been ‘astonishing’.
“It just shows you there is some real community spirit out there,” said Rachel. “People can be so generous - their sense of community is so strong.”
Just five months ago, last October, Rachel and Russell, 31, an engineer, thought their chance to change Ollie’s life had disappeared when they received a £27,000 hospital bill they could not pay.
But a front-page appeal in The Star touched the hearts of people across South Yorkshire, and the money started rolling in.
Now, despite having already raised £43,000, Rachel has to start thinking about fundraising again.
“The physio is costing £150 a week - the NHS will only pay for one hour a week for the first 12 weeks, and he needs it much more frequently if he is to walk unaided,” she said.
“We also need to buy some new equipment, such as a treadmill, and will need to go back to St Louis in 12 or 18 months for follow-up care.
“Ollie needed a second operation to lengthen his hamstrings, which cost £7,000 and ate up most of the reserves we had for physio, so we think we will have to raise another £15,000.”
Rachel has already signed up for the Sheffield Half Marathon in May to relaunch the fundraising drive, and is organising another round of supermarket bag-packing events.
She added: “It was a long haul to raise the money - it took us most of last year. But at least there’s a lot less pressure now - he’s had his operation and is really doing well.”