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Six-year-old girl who was told she would never walk fulfils dance dream after pioneering surgeryBy Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:08 PM on 8th June 2011
Inspiration: Sophie Nugent was told she would never be able to walk
All her young life, six-year-old Sophie Nugent has wanted nothing more than to dance like her idols JLS and Rihanna.
But while the other children around her spent their afternoons learning moves in the dance studio, she was told she would spend most of her life in a wheelchair.
Now, a year after undergoing a groundbreaking £40,000 medical procedure in the US, little Sophie, from, Angmering, West Sussex is strutting her stuff in her brand new blue leotard.
Sophie, who at 18 months was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, had never walked unaided before undergoing the op last year.
But just four days after a doctor in St Louis, Missouri, performed the complicated spinal surgery, she took her first step.
Now, she has won a scholarship for Bangor School of Dance near her home, where she takes weekly lessons in jazz dance alongside her friends.
Proud mum Debra said: 'When she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy we never thought we would see a day when she would walk, let alone start dancing.
'When I took her to get her first leotard was one of the best moments of both our lives. I had never seen her smile so much in her whole life - she didn't want to take it off.
Look at me now: According to her teacher Sophie is excelling in her dance classes
Debra, 34, and husband Peter, 31, were told by doctors that Sophie had spastic diplegia, meaning she would never move without a walker and would spend most of her life in a wheelchair.
The spasticity - muscle stiffness - in her feet meant they were constantly extended on tip-toes and while she dreamed of becoming a dancer, Sophie had to settle with bouncing on her mother's knee while her favourite music videos played.
While her parents had resigned themselves to the thought they would never see their daughter walk, one day in 2009 they heard about a procedure being carried out in the US by Dr T S Park at St Louis Children's Hospital.
The procedure, called a selective dorsal rhizotomy, involves cutting the over-firing nerves which cause the spasticity in people suffering from cerebral palsy.
The operation is then followed with several years of intensive physiotherapy to help train the muscles to perform properly.
Brave: As a toddler Sophie would struggle to get about using a walking frame
Dr Park is the only neurosurgeon in the world to have refined the SDR technique by reducing the amount of spine removed during the operation.
But until recently the procedure was still seen as experimental by the drug-rationing body NICE and is not as yet available on the NHS.
Desperate for their daughter to finally fulfil her dreams of dancing, Debra and Peter considered taking out a bank loan to pay for the £40,000 procedure.
In the end, their local community came together, raising the money in just six months.
Proud: Sophie with mum Debra who thought she'd never get to see her little girl walk, let alone dance
'There was a huge amount of community spirit behind Sophie. She became a bit of a celebrity in the end. Everyone was so generous.
'We explained to Sophie that she was going to get her feet fixed and the first thing she said was, 'I'm going to dance, I'm going to dance!
'All her friends at school love to dance and I think like any little girl she just wanted to be 'normal' and be like the others.'
Last July, Sophie travelled with her family to have the operation and prepared for a month of intensive physiotherapy which followed.
However, she amazed even her doctors by taking her first step just four days later. By the ninth day, she was walking.
Now, nearly a year on, Sophie is not only walking on her own but is finally able to join in with her schoolfriends in taking dance lessons.
For Debra, it's the fulfilment of a dream which seemed unobtainable when Sophie was first diagnosed.
She said: 'Doctors told us that she would never stand without a walker and would, as she got older, always need her wheelchair to get around.
'She used a frame in the playground and to get from classroom to classroom at school, but she tired easily and used a wheelchair the rest of the time.
Gruelling: Sophie underwent a groundbreaking £40,000 medical procedure in the US followed by an intense course of physiotherapy
'But on the fourth day, the physiotherapist let go of her in order to reach for her wheelchair and, to his amazement, she took her first ever step. It was incredible.
'Taking her to dance lessons is a joy. I had always felt a bit cheated out of doing things like that with her so it's brilliant to be able to share it together.
'Watching her just fills me with an immense sense of pride and hopefully as she gets older she will just go from strength to strength - who knows what she will be able to do.'
Medical professionals from around the world - including Germany, Italy, Korea and Canada - have visited Dr Park to learn more about SDR which he hopes will create new programs within health services.
Dr Park, for whom Sophie was his 2,000th patient, said: 'I am more gratified than ever.
There are 2,000 children running around that have been helped by this surgery.
'Sometimes parents call to say their child is 30 years old and leading a normal life. It's wonderful.
'We need to establish this procedure as a mainstay of surgery. It's vastly underutilized and it is the only procedure that can reduce spasticity permanently.'
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