Cerebral palsy teen seeks life-changing surgery

Kate Harpur dreams of playing sport, and hopes an operation will give her the chance.
MATTHEW CATTIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Kate Harpur dreams of playing sport, and hopes an operation will give her the chance.

If Kate Harpur had full use of her legs, she would play sport every Saturday.

Due to a medical misadventure at birth, however, Kate suffers from cerebral palsy, and is usually forced to watch from the sidelines.

The 19 year old student from Orewa north of Auckland is lucky to have full use of her arms, but struggles with weak and tight legs, and walks with a stick.

She's had multiple surgeries on her achilles, hamstrings and abductor muscles, and frequently has physio and botox therapy to keep her moving.

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Last year, Kate discovered a surgical procedure that could change all that.

Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) is a surgery that involves cutting sensory nerve fibres that join the muscles to the spinal cord.

It is currently the only surgery that can permanently reduce spasticity in cerebral palsy patients, and if successful, will be a life-changing procedure for Kate.

"I can't imagine life without spasticity, but without it I will finally be able to do the impossible, the things I can't do," Kate says.

The surgery isn't available in New Zealand, but in Australia, two patients a year are able to have the procedure.

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For Kate, whose cerebral palsy stems from medical misadventure, she feels more comfortable getting the procedure done with the most experienced team.

Dr T S Park from St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri is no stranger to the procedure, having helped around 3000 people with cerebral palsy.

Despite not having nearly enough funds for the surgery, Kate has put herself on the waiting list, with her next possible opening in December next year.

The surgery alone costs $70,000 - a lot of money for a teenager - but Kate wants to get it done sooner rather than later.

While trusting a doctor has been a big step for Kate, the chance to feel and appear more 'normal' is a risk worth taking.

"I've spoken to adults who have had it done and they don't regret having it done, but they do regret not getting it earlier," she says.

Kate is looking into numerous fundraising options, including a cinema event, Scentsy parties and Givealittle, but she has a long road ahead.

Visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/katesdreamtowalk to help.

 - Rodney Times

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