Teenager with spina bifida who was told to 'get used to a wheelchair' walks again after pioneering operation
Charlotte was confined to a wheelchair aged 11 and told to 'just get on with it'But expert at Southampton General Hospital was convinced she could get Charlotte standing again
Days before 18th birthday Charlotte underwent a complex operation to lengthen the tight muscles at the hips, knees and feetShe can now walk and says it feels 'completely natural'



09:53 GMT, 26 December 2012

Charlotte Volante on a Jersey beach. Now she is walking her new ambition is to learn how to drive

Charlotte Volante on a Jersey beach. Now she is walking her new ambition is to learn how to drive

A teenager who was told to get on with life in a wheelchair life because she would never walk again is now walking after a pioneering operation.

Charlotte Volante, from Jersey, had been confined to a wheelchair since the age of 11 after being born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

But children's orthopaedic expert Caroline Edwards was confident she could get Charlotte standing again.

After a complex operation in July this year to lengthen the tight muscles at the hips, knees and feet, Charlotte amazed her family by standing up next to her hospital bed.

Supported by a nurse and her mother Bernadette, 52, the teenager then walked around her ward and the nurses' station at Southampton General Hospital.

The breakthrough was just 10 days before her 18th birthday and left Charlotte and her family with a double reason to celebrate.

the youngest of five girls and two boys, said: 'When I was 11, I was
given an electric wheelchair and told to just get on with it.

'After I met Caroline, I agreed to let her do the op she suggested but I didn't really know if it would work.

'Walking again after my operation did not feel strange and it didn't hurt; it just felt completely natural.'

It has been a long road for Charlotte as she and her parents have made more than 500 return trips to Southampton for treatment. She had already undergone 42 surgical procedures on her head, legs, back and stomach.

Charlotte was born with spina bifida – a fault in
the development of the spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) that had left a gap in her spine. She also developed the related condition hydrocephalus – where cerebro-spinal fluid doesn't drain into the blood stream properly.

She will still need to return to Southampton for further treatment including having new splints fitted.

Her father Tony, 50, said: 'We have been coming to Southampton General Hospital regularly since Charlotte was just a day old and have nothing but good things to say about it.

'The staff have been brilliant and there are still one or two we remember from when we first came in all those years ago.'

Meanwhile, Charlotte is hoping to fulfil another dream – learning to drive.

'Caroline has given me the drive to go on and make all my dreams a reality and I now hope to begin to drive – and I'm already saving for a car,' she said.

Charlotte with her mother Bernadette and father Tony

Charlotte with her mother Bernadette and father Tony: They have all been impressed with Charlotte's treatment at Southampton General Hospital

Charlotte is one of 15 children and young people who have benefited from a pioneering accelerated rehabilitation programme developed by the hospital.

The programme can see patients walking within six weeks of hip surgery through the use of a removable brace.

Conventionally, patients are placed in plaster shorts – known as a spica – for six to eight weeks. These hold the hip in place but limit movement, causing muscle wastage, delaying the start of therapy treatment and preventing them from standing for at least three months.

Under accelerated rehabilitation, patients are placed in their brace at night or during periods of rest following surgery, allowing early movement and standing to preserve muscle strength or comfortable seating.

The programme is already helping young cerebral palsy patients as well as those with spina bifida, where a series of birth defects affect the development of the spine and nervous system.

'It is fantastic to see children and young people like Charlotte to be up on their feet so soon after major invasive surgery – the early movement with the brace seems to be the key,' said Miss Edwards.

'I am delighted for Charlotte and her family, especially as they thought she would never walk again.'