Zahnee Riley-Campbell has spent most of her life in and out of the hospital.

Children's nurses, doctors, and surgeons have spent countless hours working to give the Tauranga teenager the ability to see and walk properly again.

The community has followed the 13-year-old's story since she first started school.

Now, Zahnee wants to pay it forward.


Zahnee underwent complex surgery at Starship Hospital last November to realign her lower spine after she was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, which meant it became painful for her to walk far.

In 2011, Zahnee had a life-changing operation in New York to reposition her eyes due to damage from a rare facial vascular haemangioma, associated with Phace syndrome, which she was born with.

The birthmark affected her sight and co-ordination, and caused headaches and painful pressure on her shoulders.

The surgeries and countless times in and out of hospital have made Zahnee want to give back to all those who have helped mend and heal her.

Zahnee when she was 5 and getting ready to travel to New York for life-changing eye surgery. Photo / file
Zahnee when she was 5 and getting ready to travel to New York for life-changing eye surgery. Photo / file

"I want to volunteer at the children's ward at Tauranga Hospital and do more for the Ronald McDonald house," she said.

Zahnee also wants to return to volunteering at the Tauranga SPCA and for the Salvation Army's Red Shield Appeal.

She can do that now that she is able to walk again. In fact, Zahnee is even running.

Zahnee has come a long way since her surgery, with the teenager walking around the Mount for the first time in a long time. She also went rock'n'roll dancing with her granddad.


The best part, Zahnee said, is that she no longer needs a wheelchair.

"That's what I was nervous about having a wheelchair at school," she said. "People ask questions and stuff."

Earlier this month, Zahnee got to meet the surgeons who performed the complex procedure on her spine and show them her recovery progress.

"It was good to be able to put a face to the name," Zahnee said.

But mum Jade Riley said her daughter was not out of the woods yet.

"She has still got a long way to go. Her feet are still not working properly," Jade said.

"Does anything?" Zahnee said jokingly.

Despite being only 13, Zahnee is comfortable openly talking about her condition and has never lost her humour.

"She is just such a happy kid," Jade said. "It is nice she doesn't have to have a wheelchair and that she has got some things to look forward to now."

What is spondylolisthesis?

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that affects the lower vertebrae (spinal bones). This disease causes one of the lower vertebrae to slip forward on to the bone directly beneath it. It's a painful condition but treatable in most cases. Both therapeutic and surgical methods may be used. Proper exercise techniques can help avoid this condition.