A family has issued a plea for help to fund a life-changing operation so their three-year-old daughter can walk properly for the first time.
Little Esmè Hodge – known as Ezzy – was wrapped in a sandwich bag inside a special incubator to keep her alive after being born almost three months early.
The tiny tot who weighed just 3lbs developed cerebral palsy and finds it difficult to move her legs and left arm because of tightness in her muscles.
Doctors say the determined youngster’s best chance of being able to walk unaided is to undergo a complex operation not available to young children on the NHS.
The Hodge family have managed to track down a private doctor at a children’s hospital in St Louis, America who has been carrying out the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) op for the past 21 years.
The family has already raised part of the £80,000 needed to carry out the life-changing treatment, but are calling on the public to pitch in.
Her mother, Angela, 39, from Thornbury, Bristol, said: “It would mean the world to Ezzy to be given the chance to walk and I can’t explain what it would mean to the family.
“So far we have raised £20,000, but we still have a long way to go. We are so grateful for every penny and there is no way to thank everyone who has supported us.
“Ezzy is the most bubbly, funny and bright little girl. Everyone she meets falls in love with her and she loves to blow kisses and smile at everyone.
“She is such a strong and special little girl and she faces each challenge and treatment with a smile on her face.
“All we want to is give her the best chance at living an independent life and the best way we can see of doing this is to undertake the treatment in America.
“It would mean the absolute world for Esmè to have the operation this year in time for her to start school with everyone else next September.
“We really think this is her best chance at giving her the best chance to be able to walk.”
After spending six weeks on the NICU ward, Esmè was finally allowed home on February 14 – within 24 hours of her mother also been discharged.
It wasn’t until the tot was around nine months old that Angela started to notice that she wasn’t hitting the usual milestones.
The premature birth left her with brain damage and after two years of tests doctors finally diagnosed Esmè with cerebral palsy last summer.
“I was in excruciating pain and my vital signs were dropping so the surgeons made the decision to deliver Esmè at 29 weeks,” added Angela.
“It was terrifying, they basically took my husband Matthew into another room and told him to say goodbye because they thought I wouldn’t wake up.
“Afterward they told me I was very lucky to survive.
“It was a relief to be able to identify what was wrong, but obviously we were all devastated.
“When she was delivered Ezzy was unconscious and not breathing, and we have been told this is when she suffered the brain damage.
“Although people have told me it isn’t my fault, I feel so guilty that it was my health which meant that she had to be born early and as she saved my life I want to do anything and everything I can possibly do to help her walk.”
However, Angela, who is also mother to Kayleigh, 14 and Oliver, 8, claims research shows the earlier the operation is performed, the better the result.
The family has just learned that Esmè has been accepted on to the waiting list for the SDR surgery.
For more information about Esmè’s condition and to donate visit www.ezzyswishtowalk.co.uk.