Zahnee Riley-Campbell makes her way across the polished floor, a slight sway in each step, towards her friend who is waiting.

The 13-year-old, walking tall with matching pink shoes and shirt, has been longing for this moment for months.

Her friend is crying. Her friend's mum, standing next to her, is crying. Zahnee's mum, behind the camera, is crying.

Zahnee is beaming. She breaks into a floss – a popular dance move she has also been wanting to do for months.


And then, after a few more steps forward, she reaches her friend, and they embrace. The hug is a long one. Her friend's mum joins in as well.

"I'm not a person who believes in Christmas miracles," Jade Riley, Zahnee's mum, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend this week.

"But I think clearly that was – that she was able to walk over and see her friend."

Late last month, Zahnee underwent a 10-hour complex surgery at Starship Hospital to realign her lower spine to allow her to walk without pain.

It involved donated bone and a lot of metal.

She had been diagnosed with spondylolisthesis of the L5–S1 level of the lumbar spine, was on the surgery's waiting list for about three months, and was doing intensive physiotherapy and hydrotherapy to help strengthen her spine.

Her back pain meant she was away from school for almost two terms. She missed her friends terribly.

Now, the teenager is back on her feet.

The short walk to meet her friend at Bayfair this month was the first time the two were seeing each other since the surgery. They were there to do a bit of shopping together before Christmas.

Brave Zahnee Riley-Campbell is back on her feet

Late last month, Zahnee Riley-Campbell underwent a 10-hour complex surgery at Starship Hospital to realign her lower spine to allow her to walk without pain. Now, the brave Tauranga teenager is back on her feet. Read the story behind the video here:

Posted by Bay of Plenty Times on Friday, 28 December 2018

"It was just so amazing," Zahnee says of that moment.

"I was just really happy and so excited to see her again and just to be able to walk over to her."

She says before the surgery, she hadn't been able to walk properly for months. She only really walked around the house, and even that was painful. She mostly moved around in a wheelchair.

Now, she is doing two 20-minute walks a day.

"Don't have any pain in my back at all, so it's just strengthening my legs now," Zahnee says.

"It feels so cool to walk without pain and just walking a bit more every day."

She says she is looking forward to some day soon getting back into the hobbies she loved, such as horse riding, swimming and rock climbing.

She has also got her eye on some short-term goals, like another walk around Bayfair with her friends.

"I'm hoping soon I can start kicking the ball around with my brother because that's what we've been wanting to do for ages – just go to the park and kick the soccer ball around."

It has been a long road to this point, with a lot of setbacks and milestones along the way.

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, co-ordination, caused headaches and painful pressure on her shoulders.

Her fight is not over yet.

Zahnee will follow up with a surgeon in about four weeks to see what's next.

She is remarkably positive about it all and is taking her recovery one step at a time.

"We've been calling her our new bionic teenager," mum Jade says with a laugh.

"She's got more screws and bolts than Hammer Hardware. They've put a lot in there."

Jade says the surgery was a massive development, and so was the walk at Bayfair.

"It was absolutely lovely to see her walk over to her friend. I think it meant a lot for her to be able to do that. It was just a really brief thing, but she was very excited."

A brief moment that made a Christmas miracle believer out of Jade, and maybe more than a few others as well.

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.