This is the adorable moment a little girl took her first steps unaided – to see Santa in his grotto.
Esme Hodge, aged three, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic diaplegia last year and until recently could only walk with the help of a frame.
But in September she underwent surgery in America to help her walk independently, as it was not available on the NHS.
After a year of fundraising for the £80,000 operation, selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), her parents Angela, 40, and Matthew, 44, were granted their very own “Christmas miracle” when they saw Esme toddle over to meet Santa.
Angela said: “To watch her walk over to Santa was our very own Christmas miracle.
“The first thing Esme said to him was ‘look Santa, I can walk’.”
Esme, known to her family as Ezzy, met Father Christmas last Sunday at the Winter Wonderland in Cheltenham, Glos, as part of a trip organised by a local charity.
Medics warned that it could be between six to 12 months before Esme could walk independently, so her parents were astounded at her confidence.
Now the plucky youngster’s goal is to walk by herself into class when she starts school next September.
Her proud mum said: “Ezzy stood up next to Santa and held his hand.
“She then told him she wanted horses for Christmas. She’s obsessed – she asked him for lots of horses.
“She goes to horse riding therapy once a week but she can’t go on a real horse until she’s four, she uses a mechanical one.
“As a family, seeing Ezzy walk by herself to meet Santa was the best Christmas present we could have wished for.
“If you had told us a year ago, when we first started fundraising, that we would be in this position now, we would never have believed it.”
Esme was born almost three months premature, weighing just 3lbs.
Doctors were forced to wrap the tiny tot in a sandwich bag in a special incubator, where she stayed for six weeks.
But after returning home to Thornbury, Bristol, Angela and Matt realised that Esme was not developing the same as other children and could not use her left side.
Angela said: “She wasn’t diagnosed until she was two and we started fundraising this time last year.
“We should have been in America right now, but we went early and came back in October.
“When we saw her going up to Santa we were bursting with pride – after the op she was walking with sticks or a frame.”
Esme is having therapy every day, including horse riding therapy, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.
But despite the arduous therapy, Esme stays cheerful.
After her operation, older brother Oliver, aged nine, kept her spirits up, and siblings Kayley, 14, and Amy, 21, love to play with the tot.
Her half-sister Amy Sharp is a talented gymnast who coaches the Bristol Hawks and competed as a British Champion.
Angela said: “I have got just as much pride watching Esme walking, as watching my other daughter doing gymnastics.”
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