Eight-year-old boy who was told he’d never walk takes his first steps

Boy, eight, with cerebral palsy whose dreams of ‘walking like other children’ were dashed by UK medics because he ‘didn’t meet surgery criteria’ takes first steps after life-changing US operation

  • EXCLUSIVE: Jackson Waddell, from Irvine, North Ayrshire, was told he’d be wheelchair bound for his entire life
  • Scottish specialists said he didn’t meet criteria for surgery to stiffen leg muscles
  • His parents raised £70,000 for operation 4,000 miles away in St Louis, Missouri 
  • Now he’s taken his first unaided steps and experts say he’ll walk and even run  

An eight-year-old boy who was told by UK doctors he’d never walk has taken his first steps after life-changing surgery in the US.

Every year on his birthday, Jackson Waddell, from Irvine, North Ayrshire, would wish for the ability to ‘walk like other children’. 

But a cerebral palsy diagnosis at the age of 16 months left the youngster resigned to needing a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

He was told by specialists in the UK that he’d never be able to stand on his own two feet unaided – but experts now say he’ll be able to walk and even run in years to come.

Jackson Waddell, eight, takes his first unaided steps just months after being told by doctors that he’d never walk

This time last year, Jackson could only move in when he was held in place by an assisted frame

His mother Jacqueline, 32, said: ‘He was 95 per cent bound to his wheelchair before we went to America.

‘On each of his birthdays, he used to blow out his candles and wish that he could “walk like other children” – it was heartbreaking.

‘But when we seen specialists in Scotland they told us he’d never be able to walk. They said he didn’t meet the ‘criteria’ to have surgery.’

Father Craig, 30, Jackson, sister Ruby, five, and mother Jacqueline, 32, travelled to St Louis, Missouri for life changing surgery 

Dr TS Park (holding Jackson following surgery) performed selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) on the boy to improve muscle stiffness in his legs

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Jackson’s mother and father Craig, 30, wanted him to have selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) – an operation used to improve spasticity (muscle stiffness) in cerebral palsy. 

But doctors in the UK typically only operate on children able to stand up and support their body, hold their posture against gravity and make appropriate movements to crawl or walk – most of which Jackson was unable to do. 

‘I was angry at the time and I still kind of am now. If he didn’t have this operation, he’d have never been able to walk,’ Mrs Waddell said.

Doctors in Britain told Jackson (playing frame football before surgery) he ‘didn’t meet the criteria for SDR’. It prompted his defiant parents to research specialists who would operate on him

The Waddells raised £70,641 in just over 12 months to pay for the Woodlands Primary pupil’s surgery and rehab

Now experts say Jackson (beaming with joy after his op) will be able to walk in all environments and even run


Cerebral palsy is the umbrella term for a number of brain conditions that affect movement and coordination.

Specifically, it is caused by a problem in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscles.

The condition can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before, during or shortly after birth.

One in every 400 children in the UK are thought to be born with cerebral palsy, meaning around 1,800 children a year have the condition.

It’s estimated that 764,000 children and adults in the US have one or more symptoms of the disorder. 

There’s no cure for cerebral palsy, but some treatments are available to ease symptoms, such as physiotherapy.

Life expectancy is usually unaffected, however, the emotional and physical strain can put a great deal of stress on the body which can cause further problems in later life. 

‘For them to tell us he’d never do it and to see him now just seven months later, it’s incredible.’

Jackson’s defiant mother wouldn’t take no for an answer when turned away by doctors in the UK.

She began researching other treatments around the world before finding paediatric neuro-surgeon DR TS Park at St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri. 

Dr Park, who has carried out more than 4,000 SDR operations over 20 years, told the family that Jackson would be able to walk ‘unaided in all environments’ and even run. 

The inspired family had to raise over £70,000 for the operation and rehabilitation costs and travelled 4000 miles to St Louis. 

Generous fundraisers inundated the family with donations – including darts legend Phil Taylor, who handed Jackson £20,000 after meeting him at an exhibition last year – and the family met their target in 12 months. 

The first operation Jackson underwent involved cutting nerves in the spinal cord which would take away any tightness in his legs. The second involved having muscle lengthening done.

Concentration: The eight-year-old uses all his might to stand up himself at a session shortly after his surgery

I’ve done it! Jackson can’t wipe the smile from his face after standing upright for the first time

Jackson is now doing strength and conditioning training four times a week and plays frame football on a weekly basis. 

He’s even become a bit of a celebrity in his hometown, and was invited to switch the Christmas lights on this year. 

Jackson will have to keep up his physiotherapy for years to build up the strength in his legs. 

Jackson takes several steps with his physiotherapist while wearing small splints to aid him

His mother said: ‘We knew all along that the surgery in America wasn’t going to be a miracle cure, but we are going to do everything in our power to give him the best life possible.

‘He takes everything in his stride, he’s so optimistic and never moans about all the trips to the doctor and physio.’

Jackson was first diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 16-months-old. The condition affects all his limbs and his speech. 

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