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