Zahnee's whole new outlook on life

When Zahnee Campbell woke from life-changing surgery in New York, the first thing on her mind was playing soccer.

Thanks to a nearly $70,000 fundraising effort by her determined mother Jade Riley, Zahnee, who celebrates her 6th birthday on Saturday, will be able to fulfil her dream of joining a soccer team.

The operation, which is not available in New Zealand, was to reposition her eyes due to damage from a rare facial vascular hemangioma tumour she was born with.

Before surgery, Zahnee had to hold her head on an angle, wear glasses and struggled with her sense of depth and perception, often causing her to bang into things.

When she woke up, Zahnee instinctively held her head straight and shocked her parents by walking up stairs without putting two feet on each stair.

"Automatically she did one after the other, like you or I," Ms Riley said.

Zahnee's parents had planned to book Zahnee in for plastic surgery to rebuild her eyelid and eyebrow on her return to New Zealand, but they have now decided to let her make the decision for herself when she is old enough.

"To us she's perfect," Ms Riley said.

Once Zahnee plucked up the courage to open her right eye, her parents treated her to a trip to an American toy store.

"All she picked out was a soccer ball, it was white and pink," Ms Riley said.

The family is now seeking a suitable girls' soccer team for her to join.

Zahnee and her family are not long back from the US and on Tuesday she returned to her classroom at St Thomas More Catholic School as somewhat of a celebrity among her peers.

"She couldn't wait to get there, she asked me several times 'how many sleeps?'," Ms Riley said.

Immediately after her surgery Zahnee faced a tough couple of days when she didn't wake up while her body fought a reaction to the anesthetic and dehydration.

"It was quite scary, we were dying for her to wake up," Ms Riley said.

When she finally woke, Zahnee's eyes were bruised and swollen, but the surgery had been a success.

"All she mentioned was will she be able to get into the soccer team.

"It all went really well, I believe it was better than expected," Ms Riley said.

Seeing her daughter's self-image bloom has made the intensive three-month fundraising drive including cake stalls, sausage sizzles, mufti days, garage sales, discos, raffles, a fundraising dinner and creating and publishing a cookbook all worthwhile.

"To be honest what I'm really going to enjoy now is spending time with the kids. To me the Christmas holidays can't come round soon enough," Ms Riley said.

She wanted to thank those who had supported the family and "Zahnee's Cause". "The empathy and compassion is what's going to last me a lifetime," she said.

Copies of Pohutukawa Princess Cookbook are still available by sending a cheque or money order for $8 (one book including postage and add $5 for each additional book) to Cook Book, PO Box 11186, Papamoa 3151.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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