Just over five weeks since her life-changing operation in the States, three-year-old Leah Ligertwood is up on her feet and raring to go!
Leah’s mum, Nicola Lowrie, and dad, Richie Ligertwood, launched Leah’s appeal earlier this year which helped to pay for the operation at St. Louis Hospital and were inundated with support from the local community.
She underwent Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy on August 23 which was successful with no complications. Now back home in the Blue Toon, Nicola admitted it was tough watching Leah go through the operation.
She told the Buchanie: “When Leah first woke up she was totally out of it, she was just grumbling away to herself and you could tell she was in pain. It was horrible to watch.
“She had to lay still in bed for a few days, until her first day of physio on the Friday. She wasn’t keen on getting up at all. She built up a lot of fear about walking again and when we first tried to put her down she just went ballistic. We told her so many times before the operation what was going to happen and we did think she’d wake up with a brave face, but she just looked miserable.
“There were times I thought she was looking at me as if to say ‘what have you done’. It was heartbreaking and me and Richie did cry a few times.
“The first time she smiled was when the hospital’s pet Dalamtion, Mel, came to see her in her bed and licked her face.”
It was the following week before Leah was standing by herself, but the physio team worked hard to get her moving again. Advising Nicola and Richie to keep Leah out of both her wheelchair and buggy in the third week, they were told Leah was a high-class recovery patient.
Now using muscles she previously wouldn’t have used, Leah struggled with spasms after her surgery, but her parents say the change in her has been amazing.
“She was, and still is, improving every day and that’s what has kept us going,” said Richie.
“We’ve noticed a lot of things she’s able to do now that she wouldn’t have been able to before, simple things like crossing her legs and jumping. Even today she stepped down the pavement without my hand, it seems like such a simple task but for her it’s a huge step.”
Nicola added: “Within a couple of hours of having the operation Leah was able to wiggle her toes, something she’s never been able to do before. Even her physio stretches are much easier. We used to have to force her foot to straighten and now it takes very little effort. Her walking will take time though, but it has hugely improved, she was taking baby steps to begin with, it was like teaching her to walk all over again. The doctor said she’ll be about five before she can master running.”
Leah, who used to walk with leg splints, is now able to wear shoes which fit her properly and has inserts that help her keep her balance. She will continue to wear night splints and leg braces for a year, to make sure her legs are stretched throughout the night.
Both Nicola and Richie agree that they are a bit more protective of Leah since her operation.
“I feel we have to watch her every move now,” said Nicola.
“It’s been a tough six weeks, we’ve both had to have a lot of patience as well, it was extremely frustrating the first week but looking back it was all worth it. Although she wasn’t herself to begin with she’s back to normal now, and maybe even a bit cheekier than before! We’re definitely a bit more protective of her, but that won’t last forever.”
In six months’ time, Leah’s doctor will request videos to see how she is getting on after the operation and make a decision on whether she has to return for an assessment.
Part of Leah’s contract with the hospital was that if needed, she could return after a year of having the operation.
Both Nicola and Richie are eternally grateful for the overwhelming support they have received from the community.
Once Leah has been assesed next year they will look into using the remaining money, which is kept separate in Leah’s own appeal account, to develop something within the community.