Miracle op sets girl running

MARYKE PENMAN
Last updated 06:51 13/06/2013
Kali Johnstone

BRIGHT FUTURE: Toddler Kali Johnstone, 2, is now learning to run after having life-changing surgery to correct her cerebral palsy.

Kiwi kids who fight the odds

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Kali Johnstone
Bright future: Toddler Kali Johnstone, 2, is now learning to run after having life-changing surgery to correct her cerebral palsy.

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Life-changing surgery means little Kali Johnstone, 2, is no longer facing life in a wheelchair.

The Auckland toddler has a type of cerebral palsy called spastic displegia. Problems in Kali's muscles were so severe that she had major difficulty walking and balancing.

Kali wore full leg casts everywhere she went and doctors predicted she would be in a wheelchair by the age of 5.

In March, Kali became the first New Zealander to have the corrective surgery, selective dorsal rhizotomy at the St Louis Children's Hospital in the United States.

She is now able to ride her scooter and is learning to run unassisted.

Expert surgeon Tae Sung Park performed the surgery which involves cutting some of the nerve fibres stemming from the muscles into the spinal cord.

Kali and her family were in St Louis for five weeks while she recovered.

Mum Amanda Johnstone said there were no complications.

Dr Park had predicted Kali would even be able to take part in sports such as rock climbing if she wished.

"Unless you have a child with cerebral palsy I don't think anyone could comprehend how incredible it is to see her now.

"It's all those little things that mean so much to us like riding her scooter, sitting cross-legged and standing flat-footed. She would never have been able to do that before," Ms Johnstone said.

The surgery was not available in New Zealand and in most cases children like Kali faced years of excruciatingly painful tendon lengthening procedures and Botox injections.

"It's amazing to think that we have avoided all of that and within two to three years, instead of being in a wheelchair, she will no longer be classified as disabled."

The entire trip cost about $80,000 and Ms Johnstone said the family continued to fundraise since returning to New Zealand.

"It's a lot of money but completely worth it.

"You can't put a price on it," she said.

"I wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again 1000 times over."

Go to Facebook.com/KalisNewLegs to follow Kali's progress.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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