LITTLE Joshua Marsh may have to wear a helmet 23 hours a day to help correct a syndrome which affects the shape of his skull - but even that can’t keep a smile off the adorable tot’s face.
The seven-month-old is using the special helmet to treat the plagiocephaly - or flat head syndrome as it is more commonly known - that he lives with.
He was around eight weeks old when his parents Sharon and Gary first noticed he was favouring one side of his body because of a stiffness in his neck.
It meant that one side of his head was becoming flat and, although they kept trying to re-position him so he would lie on the other side, he would always turn back.
The Deepcar couple had seen similar signs in their older son Owen, now aged six, but in time the condition had rectified itself.
But Joshua was found to have a problem in his neck called torticollis which caused the stiffening, in turn exacerbating the condition.
Sharon took him to see their GP who referred them to the Children’s Hospital for a CT scan to ensure he wasn’t suffering from the more sinister condition of craniosynostosis - where the fontanelles fuse together too soon, not allowing room for the brain to grow.
If he had been diagnosed with this, surgery would have been the only option - so Sharon, 32, and Gary, 34, were relieved to be given the news that this wasn’t the case.
Sharon said: “He would have had to have had his skull reopened and put back together so it was a huge relief to be told he didn’t have it.
“However, we’d been trying all kinds of different things to try to combat the flat head syndrome - we tried to wedge him on one side, gave him plenty of time on his tummy rather than his back, we even bought a special mattress - but nothing was working.”
It was then that the pair looked to the Steeper Clinic, near Leeds, a place they had discovered online years earlier when carrying out research into the condition when Owen was a baby.
They went for an initial consultation to find out what treatment could be offered, before taking the tough decision to go ahead with it.
“It costs £2,000 so it was a big decision whether we should do it,” Sharon said.
“You don’t just have that money lying around and obviously it’s not available on the NHS because they believe the syndrome to be only cosmetic.
“But we decided to go for it - my opinion was that life is hard enough, especially for kids because other children can be so cruel, without having something wrong with you.
“You only have a limited time available to work on the problem so we went for it - I couldn’t bear the idea that Joshua might turn around to me when he was older and ask me why we hadn’t done it.”
The treatment works using an intricate helmet which carefully corrects the shape of the baby’s head as it grows.
It encourages growth in depressed or flattened areas while controlling growth in prominent or bossed areas.
In just 12 weeks the Marshes have noticed some amazing results. A measurements scale - where three or below is the ‘perfect head’ - has seen Joshua’s drop from 10.5 to 3.8.
The family have appointments scheduled in until August and then his condition will be reviewed.
Sharon said: “We’re thrilled with his progress and feel very happy that we went ahead with the treatment.
“I know doctors say it is only cosmetic, but there are cases where the syndrome has caused problems with chewing because the jaw is misaligned, and often children can’t ride bikes because they can’t get cycle helmets to fit or they can’t wear glasses.
“He’s been absolutely fine wearing the helmet and we’ve not had any problems. We just wanted to do whatever we could to make our child’s life easier.”