In a few days, a 13-year-old Auckland boy suffering a rare, crippling polio-like disease will
walk for the first time.
Harry Randall is the only New Zealander known to have acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare disease he contracted from a virus when he was just 3.
Tomorrow, the teen is travelling to the United States where he will be fitted with braces like no other.
For the past 10 years the North Shore teen has been using a wheelchair but still manages to swim competitively, ski and perform a lead role in his school production.
With the use of his legs, he hopes to do much more.
Unable to wipe the grin off his face, Harry said he was excited and nervous for the trip ahead.
"I don't know what to expect but I'm eager to find out. Being able to walk will make me feel more included at school and swimming, as well as feeling taller," Harry told the Herald on Sunday this week.
Harry's anticipation has been building for the last five months, since American orthotist Marmaduke Loke travelled to New Zealand in October to get the teen's measurements.
Loke spent five hours aligning Harry's feet and making several casts he then took back to San Diego.
On Tuesday, Harry - with his mum Vicki and dad Ian - will reunite with Loke for the life-changing moment.
Loke will fit the carbon fibre braces to Harry, providing him with enough balance and stability to take his first steps.
These kind of braces - specifically suited to the person's correct alignment - are not available in New Zealand and are costing Harry's family $36,000.
A Givealittle page was set up to help fund Harry's braces and has raised more than $24,000.
"We are so grateful for all the support, especially to Harry's school Birkdale Intermediate, they have been amazing," Vicki said.
After arriving back in New Zealand, Harry will spend six to 10 months learning to walk properly. He will be assisted by a rehabilitation team at Auckland University of Technology.
Harry's condition affects the nervous system, causing his muscles and reflexes in the body to become weak.
Vicki said it had been "absolutely heartbreaking" finding out her son may never walk again.
"It started as a cough and flu-like virus when he was 3. He stayed in Starship for three weeks."
Vicki said it was not known how the virus was contracted, it was just bad luck.
"Some people might get the virus and overcome it but for some reason Harry didn't and it affected his spinal cord."
She said they had hoped groundbreaking technology would come along that would give Harry the ability to walk again, and now it has.
"It will mean a lot for his confidence; to be able stand up and be at eye level with people will mean the world of difference," Vicki said.
Gordon Jackman, 62, who contracted polio as a baby, is chief executive of the Duncan Foundation, a national support service for people with neuromuscular conditions.
The Duncan Foundation and Polio New Zealand have funded several trips to get Loke to New Zealand and now hope to get a clinic, lead by Loke,set up in Auckland later this year.
What is AFM?
AFM is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system. Specifically it attacks the area of the spinal cord called grey matter, which causes the body's muscles and reflexes to weaken.
Symptoms often develop after a viral infection, such as enterovirus or West Nile virus, but often no clear cause is found.
Patients start off having flu-like symptoms including sneezing and coughing. This slowly turns into muscle weakness, difficulty moving the eyes and then polio-like symptoms including facial drooping and difficulty swallowing.