This video shows the heartwarming moment a 10-year-old boy who doctors said may never walk led out his favourite football team in front of 30,000 fans.
Joe Danforth was diagnosed with a rare condition known as CHARGE syndrome at birth, an illness that affects one in 10,000 births across the world.
Doctors told his parents Martin and Nichola Danforth that there was a “slim chance” Joe would walk – but brave Joe defied expectations and has learned to walk over the years.
Dad Martin, 45, posted a video of his son walking out hand-in-hand with Sheffield Wednesday captain Glenn Loovens onto the pitch at Hillsborough on Saturday.
The video – which has already racked up 10,000 views and 6,000 retweets on Twitter – shows Joe, wearing his blue and white Wednesday shirt with pride, walking out onto the pitch, followed by the rest of the team.
Speaking about when Joe was diagnosed, Martin said: “Doctors didn’t know what would happen to him because no two people with CHARGE are the same.
“They can have very different characteristics of the disease, but we were told by doctors there was a very slim chance he would walk and at the time it came as a bit of a shock.
“He’s had to have specialist suits to help strengthen his back muscles and his leg muscles, but he still can’t walk very far.
“It has been a long process but now he is up and about and running around.
“He’s always amazing us from standing up, walking and eating. We can’t keep up with his progress at times.
Nichola said: “Joe is profoundly deaf, vision impaired and he has had multiple operations, three lifesaving, including heart surgery.
“He can’t speak. All he loves is his football and he has a passion for letters and numbers. He holds a season ticket and sits in the grandstand with his dad Martin and his sister Megan and attends every home game.
“We were absolutely bursting with pride, me and his sister were in the grandstand watching him whilst his dad was pitchside. When he came on obviously there were tears.”
Joe was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome when we was between six and eight weeks old.
Martin said: “It all started when he was six days old and he needed an operation to repair a perforated bowel.
“Between six weeks and two months we were told he had CHARGE syndrome and he probably wouldn’t walk and wouldn’t eat.
“He still has to eat through a tube as he can’t really chew food, but he can eat some foods like Weetabix for example.”
Martin said Joe took his first steps between the ages of four and five, but wasn’t able to walk without the help of walking aids until he was seven.
Martin said: “We questioned whether he was going to do it but one day he just got up and walked straight across the room.
“He’s still walking like a toddler, but all the walking aids are gone and we just have a wheelchair as a back-up. It’s very rare that we use it.”
Martin and Nichola both job share as postal workers, working three days a week each, while the other parent is at home looking after Joe.
Martin said Joe had been a season ticket holder at Hillsborough for about four years.
He said: “He’s been a season ticket holder for three or four years. I used to take him in the wheelchair but he is now able to sit in the grandstand.
“My wife contacted Sheffield Wednesday and asked if he could be a mascot and they were only too happy to help.
“He loves going and watching football.
“When he was younger he used to sit in his bouncer and watch Sky Sports News all day. He wasn’t interested in cartoons or anything like that.
“We were so proud when he walked out on Saturday. It was something special.
“He wasn’t phased at all by the crowd.”
Nichola added: “As Joe’s only love in life is football, I emailed and asked whether they would consider having Joe as a mascot, and they were only too happy to give him this wonderful opportunity.”