LITTLE Katie Jones was born with a hole in her heart, has spent half her short life in a body cast, and has had to learn to walk all over again.
At the age of one she was wearing a harness to help deepen her shallow hips and soon after was enduring an operation to realign her legs, which entailed having them broken, straightened and shortened.
But despite being told she may never be able to ride a bike, should stay away from bouncy castles and must avoid rough-and-tumble games with her friends, the chatty two-year-old happily zips around her mother as she talks of her brave daughter's ordeal.
'Now she's running around and jumping like a little bean,' says Katie's proud mother Ali, who works at a public analyst laboratory in Hoole.
Katie, who lives with her mum, dad, Ian, and their dog Monty in Hoole Lane, was born with congenital dysplasia of the hips, a condition which meant her hip sockets were so shallow her legs could dislocate at any time. 'She came as a bit of a shock - especially at our age. We never planned on having children and then I found out I was five months pregnant,' said Ali, 40.
At nine weeks the doctors found a click in Katie's hip and a hole in her heart.
'It's a common problem but the hole hasn't closed up,' said Ali. 'Katie will hopefully never need surgery but it means if she goes to the dentist or hospital for any procedure she will need a course of antibiotics.'
Ali and Ian, 39, who works for Scottish Power, took Katie to see a specialist about her legs.
'Because her hip sockets were never deep enough they wanted her legs to go up high so they would mould around them,' said Ali.
Katie was put in a half body plaster cast for 16 weeks, and later in a velcro harness, which held her legs high, letting them drop slowly so the hip cup could develop.
Although the process sounds uncomfortable, Ali says Katie was never in any pain.
The first year of her life was severely restricted.
By the time her nursery friends were old enough to crawl, her leg casts (known as frog plaster) prevented her from moving at all from the waist down. In July 2003, at 15 months, doctors found Katie's harness wasn't doing any more good. 'It had corrected the left side but not the right.
'But she wasn't bothered, she started to crawl. It was fantastic when they took her harness off - it was a really hot day, she went home and had a cool bath, which she hadn't been able to do for a year.' Ali and Ian were told to take each day at a time.
'The specialist said don't encourage her to walk, let her go on bouncy castles, or climb stairs on her own, one little knock and her leg could come out.' After a few more X-rays Katie's parents were told last year her leg would have to be pinned.
'The doctor had to put her leg in the wrong way first then pin it in so it would never fall out. Then he had to break her leg and plate it so her foot was aligned correctly. Obviously it's very traumatic but when she came out of surgery she had an epidural - so wasn't in any pain, she opened her eyes and didn't cry. She had both legs plastered with a bar at the bottom of the plaster so she wouldn't stand up.
It took her about two months to be walking confidently.'
But Katie's troubles just made her more determined to progress in other ways, particularly when all her friends were running around at nursery.
'She's been to nursery since she was four months old but she wasn't able to play actively with the kids. She was never able to weight bear. Instead she learned to talk quicker, was very dexterous with her fingers, and was quick with jigsaws. They kept her occupied.'
The plate in Katie's legs will be removed in June. 'We'd been told she wouldn't be able to pedal her bike but she's been doing it in nursery. She could never cross her legs at school, and now bit by bit she's adapting,' said Ali. 'It's amazing, it's like overnight, you don't notice it any more.
'One minute she had a limp then it seemed overnight it had gone and now runs and jumps around with so much confidence. I love her with all my heart, I would never be without her and she's been very brave, she's been a little star.'
Step by step help >>>
Step by step help
KATIE'S quality of life has been helped by STEPS - a charity that campaigns for children with lower limb conditions.
'We found out about STEPS from a friend,' said Ali. 'When Katie was five months old she had her legs bent high to the side of her - we couldn't fit her in the car seat.
'STEPS rented us a car seat with handles that can bend open as much as you want. With both of us working and taking Katie to nursery she couldn't be unrestrained in the car. STEPS also supplied a special chair/ table.'
Through STEPS, Katie's parents found they were not alone.
'They gave us confidence, sent us newsletters and helped us to understand through experiences of other parents. I don't know what we'd have done without their help.'
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