De­light for bud­ding dancer

Tilly mak­ing great strides since life-chang­ing surgery paid for after best friend’s cam­paign

Harefield Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Zoe Drewett zoe.drewett@trin­i­tymir­

FOR ‘Walk­ing Matilda’ read ‘Waltz­ing Matilda’, as a young girl pre­pares for a class she never thought she would be able to join.

Five-year-old Matilda is mak­ing a very spe­cial trip to the English Na­tional Bal­let School this month to watch older dancers in ac­tion be­fore start­ing at a Satur­day morn­ing class for younger chil­dren.

“This is all she has ever wanted to do,” her de­lighted mother, Rachel Knowles, ex­plained.

But last win­ter, things looked a lot more bleak. Matilda, known to her friends as Tilly, was un­able to walk with­out the help of a spe­cial frame on wheels and spe­cial­ist surgery – a se­lec­tive dor­sal rhi­zo­tomy – at Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal seemed a for­lorn hope.

But then an ap­peal in the Gazette got the ball rolling and now Matilda has picked out a tutu and is pre­par­ing to prac­tise her steps.

“Even now when I look at her, I can’t stop cry­ing. She has done so well in such a short time,” said Miss Knowles.

Matilda’s jour­ney is thanks in no small part to her best friend, Casey Burke, who also has cere­bral palsy but was un­able to ben­e­fit from the same surgery as Tilly.

Casey won a Gazette Lo­cal He­roes Award this year for her part in get­ting Matilda back on her feet and pur­su­ing her dream.

MATILDA Dun­can thought she would never be able to walk but now, after life-chang­ing surgery thanks to many gen­er­ous do­na­tions, even her dream of danc­ing might come true.

When four-year-old Casey Burke wrote to the Gazette in Jan­uary ask­ing for help to raise money for her best friend Matilda Dun­can, she could not have known how far her cam­paign would get her.

Casey asked ev­ery­one to pay £1 to­wards an op­er­a­tion to help Matilda (known to friends as Tilly) to walk un­aided.

Both girls, who met while at Cote­ford In­fant School in Fore Street, Eastcote, have cere­bral palsy, and need to use walk­ing frames.

Within days of the story of Casey and Matilda’s cam­paign be­ing pub­lished, an in­cred­i­ble £40,000 was raised.

In May, Matilda was able to have a se­lec­tive dor­sal rhi­zo­tomy op­er­a­tion at Great Or­mond Street Hos­pi­tal, which cost just over £25,000.

Her mother, Rachel Knowles, still pays almost £1,000 a month for Matilda’s phys­io­ther­apy. She could never have af­forded this with­out the do­na­tions to the Walk­ing Matilda cam­paign, many from com­plete strangers.

“It is still com­pletely over­whelm­ing,” said Miss Knowles, who lives with Matilda and her twin, Matthew, now five, in Porters Way, West Dray­ton.

“The first time she walked on her own it was amaz­ing. I was in tears, but they were tears of hap­pi­ness.

“Even now when I look at her I can’t stop cry­ing. She has done so well in such a short time. She is get­ting up off her knees her­self and sit­ting up and down on her own.

“Her brother loves hav­ing his sis­ter to play with. At the park she can get up on the slide on her own, some­thing she could never do be­fore,” she said.

Matilda has done so well since her op­er­a­tion that she is even plan­ning to re­alise her dream next month – by start­ing dance classes.

“This is all she has ever wanted to do – she has al­ways wanted to dance,” her mum ex­plained.

“After Tilly was on TV after her op­er­a­tion, a teacher at the English Na­tional Bal­let called us up and said, what can we do to help?”

Matilda will make a spe­cial trip to the bal­let school in Septem­ber to watch older dancers in ac­tion be­fore start­ing at a dance class for younger stu­dents on Satur­day morn­ings.

“She starts back at school next week and I am hop­ing she will walk down the cor­ri­dor with­out any help for the first time,” Miss Knowles said.

File pic­ture

n GREAT FRIENDS: Matilda Dun­can (right) and Casey Burke, who also has cere­bral palsy

n BEST FRIENDS: Casey popped in to see Matilda at Stan­more Orthopaedic Hos­pi­tal, to cheer her up after surgery to re­move metal from her legs that was put in dur­ing a pre­vi­ous op­er­a­tion Con­trib­uted pho­tos

n FAVOURITE TOGS: Matilda Dun­can – with her twin brother, Matthew – tries out her bal­let out­fit ahead of her first bal­let class

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