MONTROSE youngster Riley Murray has made “amazing” progress in the year since he underwent a life-changing operation in the United States.
When Riley, who has cerebral palsy, travelled to St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri last August with parents Dale and Trudy and sister Layla, hopes were high that the surgery would help him to walk for the first time and give him a measure of independence that was previously thought to be impossible.
But the impact the surgery has had on the seven-year-old and his family has been profound and he now enjoys more independence than before, while his confidence has increased enormously.
Down to his own determination and hard work, Riley has surpassed everyone’s expectations and his progress is now thought to be a year ahead of what was expected. After viewing videos of his steady improvement, neurosurgeon Dr T.S. Park has even waived the 12-month follow-up appointment which is customary in cases such as Riley’s.
During the three-hour procedure, which was carried out a year ago today (Thursday), Dr Park removed an inch of Riley’s spine and cut nerves behind it which were causing his spasticity and restricting his movement.
Trudy this week told the Review that although the last 12 months have been difficult for Riley in terms of dealing with a strict and gruelling regime of physiotherapy, his constant discovery of being able to do new things has helped to spur him on.
She said: “He keeps telling himself ‘I must be focused’. His physio is so intense and most of the time he wants to play, but he’s now reaching goals so much earlier than expected. He knows it’s working and is finding out all the time the things he can do.
“He’s now able to walk with his tripod sticks and has taken his first steps with his crutches a year before they expected him to, although he still needs to build up his confidence.
“His independence has increased massively with him now able to get himself in and out of his wheelchair, open doors, get in and out of bed and on and off the toilet by himself. He has amazed us this year with his drive and determination.
“Some days it has been so difficult for him just finishing school then having to do two hours physio. Like most seven-year-old boys, he wants to come home and play his Wii. But all his hard work is paying off and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made for the whole family, especially Riley.”
Trudy added that the operation has also had a positive effect on Riley’s character as he has been able to come off muscle relaxant medication, a side effect of which left him drowsy and listless, revealing a chatty and mischievous boy.
She said: “Because of this he has so much more energy and never stops talking. His physiotherapist asked him why he talked all the time now and never used to say much and he replied ‘because I used to talk all the time in my head, but couldn’t be bothered to say it out loud’.
“Riley’s school report summed up his year by saying he’d had a great year and was a chatty, happy confident boy with lots of friends and a wicked sense of humour.”
While the operation and physiotherapy has been of immeasurable benefit to Riley himself, his six-year-old sister Layla is also enjoying her brother’s new freedom.
Trudy added: “Layla has been a huge support to him, encouraging him all the way. It has made a huge difference to her too.
“Riley used to play on his games console by himself but he’s interacting more with his sister. They’re playing closer together and he’s acting like a big brother; he even walked her to her class on the first day back at school and now has more confidence to look after his sister.”
Riley undergoes daily physiotherapy sessions, with two concentrated sessions per week with a private physiotherapist and one with an NHS specialist. Trudy said this has been the most difficult aspect for him but the benefits are plain to see.
She said: “We’ve been in talks with Dr Park and sent him over videos of Riley’s progress and we’ve been advised that because he is doing so well we do not have to return to St Louis for our one year follow up appointment.
“We’re extremely happy about this as the physio programme we have in place at the moment is working so well, although it would be nice to go back one day as we met some amazing people and made some great friends.
“Once his progress plateaus we might reduce his physio but because he is making so much progress we don’t want to stop anything or slow him down. We want to see how far we can get him.”
Trudy also praised Riley’s school, Lochside Primary, which she said has been extremely supportive over the last 12 months as well as friends, family and the wider Montrose community who fund-raised ceaselessly over months to raise the £55,000 needed to send Riley to St Louis.
She said: “The school has been brilliant and staff have been carrying out his physio too. They’ve also given him quite a bit of freedom because they didn’t want to get in the way of his enthusiasm, although they’ve also said that they’ll have to ‘rein him in’ at some point.
“We’re starting to reduce the support at the school so he can do as much as he can for himself. He was previously on a one-to-one basis with staff but we want to make him as independent as possible for going to the academy.
“It’s impossible to put into words how proud we are of Riley. We’re still overwhelmed at the amount of support we received from family and friends and can’t thank everyone enough for giving our boy this chance.”