Life looked bleak for Hannah Bannister as a newborn baby when her parents were told she was unlikely to ever walk or talk.
Born with cerebral palsy, medics feared for the youngster’s future as she battled to cope with the debilitating condition.
Now – 16 years on – she is an independent teenager with lots of friends, studying for her GCSEs and able to get around with the aid of sticks.
Her success is down to hardwork and the inspiration of her devoted father, Paul, who set up the charity Heel and Toe to support children with the disorder.
Mr Bannister endlessly researched what could be done to help and stumbled on conductive education therapy from the pioneering Peto Institute in Hungary, which he believed was the way forward.
Five years ago Heel and Toe was born and since then the charity has gone from strength-to-strength, with scores of youngsters and their parents accessing the important service.
Mr Bannister, 49, of Shildon, County Durham, said: “I studied conductive education therapy and I quickly became convinced that this was an exceptional rehabilitative process that really worked in terms of significantly improving the lives of those with cerebral palsy.
“When you look at Hannah now, she has developed into an independent 16-year-old who can walk with the aid of sticks, has attended Durham Johnston School and is studying for her GCSEs. I want other parents to be able to access similar so their children reap similar benefit.”
Heel and Toe was set up in 2008 and when it began there were only four children on the books.
Now some 80 youngsters from across the region receive an average of four hours of free conductive therapy a week at centres in Durham, Chester-le-Street, and Darlington. The therapy not only helps greater control of movement but also looks at grasping a positive approach to the condition, leading to a radical improvement in quality of life.
Heel and Toe is the only charity in the North East dedicated to children with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities. Father-of-one Mr Bannister has worked in collaboration with Doug Long, who is chief executive of the charity, since the beginning of the charity. The friends worked hard to establish the service as they felt there was a lack of support for children with cerebral palsy and their relatives.
“It was my idea to start the charity, but Doug deserves most of the credit as he has done so much for Heel and Toe,” said Mr Bannister.
“The charity has gone beyond our wildest expectations and demand for the service is ever increasing.
“I am very proud of what Doug and I have achieved, but I’m more proud of the service that we offer.”
Heel and Toe is a fully independently financed charity and successfully raises almost £400,000 in donations every year – but is always looking for more.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.heelandtoe.org.uk