Moving carefully on her prosthetic legs, Charlotte Cleverley-Bisman smiles cheekily as she makes her way through the arrival gates at Auckland Airport.
The 7-year-old, whose body was ravaged by meningococcal disease when she was 6 months old, is now able to walk on her own for long periods of time. She and her parents, Pam Cleverley and Perry Bisman, were returning from a three-week trip to the United States where Charlotte learned to walk on her new prosthetics at Camp No Limits.
Before the specialist rehabilitation, the longest Charlotte could walk on her prosthetic stumps was 20 minutes. But yesterday she happily walked into the terminal on her own.
Her little skateboard, which she regularly used to get around on, lay on top of luggage on a trolley her mother was pushing.
Asked how it felt to walk on her own, she smiles and says: "It's still hard."
Ms Cleverley said Charlotte had to learn to get through the pain of having her prosthetics on for long periods so she could actually walk.
"People would ask me, 'Why are you doing that for her? Why are you helping her?' And I would say: 'I'm being a mother'.
"But they told me to let her do things for herself. It was hard to have to stand back and watch her struggle. There were tears."
With the encouragement of her new-found friends and mentors at camp, Charlotte persevered through the pain and wore her prosthetic legs every day until she was used to them and they had moulded themselves to her body.
Mr Bisman said seeing his daughter walking was incredible.
"It was the proudest day of my life. Before, we couldn't get her to stay in [the prosthetics] for longer than 20 minutes. Now she actually wanted to do it. She knows that if she does this, she'll have high-tech legs one day."
The family hoped to return with a pair of the latest high-tech prosthetics which are cushion-soft. But a paediatric prosthetic specialist told them that Charlotte needed to get fitter and continue walking on her stumps so that her back becomes straighter.
Then she could be fitted with the new legs, which can cost up to US$80,000 a year.
"We were disappointed not to be able to bring Charlotte home with new legs, but we have to take the advice of the experts and we will be working hard to make that happen as soon as possible," Mr Bisman said.
Meanwhile, public health physician and associate professor at the University of Otago, Michael Baker, says people need to be aware of how fast meningococcal disease can attack.By Vaimoana Tapaleao Email Vaimoana