Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Seven-year-old to cross Pacific for life-changing surgery

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DETERMINED: Austin Manning, with his physiotherapist Amanda Meys, at Avenues Physio-Fitness where he has been strengthening his limbs for his operation. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER
DETERMINED: Austin Manning, with his physiotherapist Amanda Meys, at Avenues Physio-Fitness where he has been strengthening his limbs for his operation. PHOTO/RUTH KEBER

Austin Manning is set to jet across the Pacific Ocean on May 11.

Over the past year his mother Helen Manning, along with his father Brett and older brother Thomas, had rallied the Bay of Plenty community with fundraisers, community events and a glitterati dinner hosted by the Chiefs rugby team to help raise money for their lovable little boy.

Austin, now 7, was one of 7000 people in New Zealand with cerebral palsy.

I want him to be able to get up. It would be great for him to walk on the crutches, and then walk independently.
Helen Manning

He suffered from periventricular leukomalacia (a brain injury), asymmetric spastic quadriplegia, developmental delay and had problems with his vision.

No operations were available in New Zealand to relieve the spasticity of his limbs caused by the cerebral palsy - but there were in the United States.

Read more: Austin on track for surgery

The surgery, which reduces muscle stiffness, was offered by Dr Park at St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri.

Through their fundraising efforts his family were able to raise more than $120,000 to go towards Austin's operation, selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), which would help relieve the spasticity of his limbs. He would have the life-changing surgery on May 16.

The procedure involved sectioning (cutting) some of the sensory nerve fibres which come from the muscles and enter the spinal cord.

Austin's mum said he struggled with things that other children could do easily, including going to the bathroom, feeding himself and being able to get up into his bed by himself.

His operation in the US would hopefully give him more independence.

Read more: Dinner raises$65k for life-changing surgery

Over the past four years, Austin had been working with Avenues Physio-Fitness physiotherapist Amanda Meys to improve the muscle strength in his limbs, she said.

He was never able to get up in his bed, use his right hand to grip objects or propel the wheelchair.

"Not long ago Austin had cereal for breakfast and when he finished it, I just had a smile on my face. He had the bowl. He had picked it up, used his right hand and was drinking the milk from the bowl. He never had the ability to do that before," said Mrs Manning.

After Austin's operation he would start intense physio with hour-long sessions everyday for four weeks.

Mrs Manning had high hopes for her youngest child.

"I want him to be able to get up. It would be great for him to walk on the crutches, and then walk independently.

"The biggest thing is him being able to go to the bathroom by himself.

"For him to be able to say, I am going to the toilet, get up and go and do what he needs to do, and do it independently.

"Or brush his teeth or sit up properly and help get dressed. All those things that any other 7-year-old can do."

Read more: $520m bypass for busy Tauranga bottleneck

Physiotherapist Ms Meys said you only had to spend a short amount of time with Austin to know that there was nothing wrong with him cognitively. "It comes down to how well can we get his body to catch up to that mind of his, which is quite phenomenal for a 7-year-old boy.

"The one thing I have learnt from Austin especially in the last year - his determination to improve. That is what excites me, hopefully this operation gives him an additional boost and we can tap into the determination he does have. He is quite a perfectionist in a funny way.

"You know if you do put a task to him, he does work as hard as he can to achieve it."

More recently he had developed better function in his legs, being able to control them a lot better in terms of where he could place them, and being able to stand up on them, she said.

"A lot of what Austin has stood up on for a very long time has been his spasticity. We have been getting his legs as strong as possible going into the surgery because once the spasticity has been taken out of his legs we could find there is a lot of weaknesses which will be uncovered."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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