Boy’s wish to play football without his walking frame comes true thanks to kind donations from the public and football boss Ken Bates.
A FOOTBALL mad disabled youngster who dreamed of playing without his walking frame has had his wish come true.
Leo Stott, four, underwent pioneering surgery not generally available on the NHS after well wishers pledged in their droves to make his dream come true.
They were moved to donate after footage of the plucky lad playing football with his walking frame was shared online.
Former Chelsea and Leeds football boss Ken Bates was so moved by Leo’s courage that he donated the final £10,000, saying: ‘ This kid deserves all the help he can get.’
Now after achieving his dream of playing without his frame and his sights firmly set on a career on the pitch, Leo and his proud mother Cara have issued a heart felt thank you to everyone who helped.
Cara, 25, a former dental nurse from Oldham, said: ‘ When he stood and walked for the first time after his operation it was a dream come true for Leo and for his family.
‘The look of pure joy on his face when he realised he could take a step without his frame was amazing. But seeing him play football knowing it was his dream come true was the most incredible moment.
‘Tears were rolling down my face but he couldn’t stop laughing and smiling.
‘To all the people who donated and of course to Mr Ken Bates, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You made a little boy’s dream come true. I truly cannot thank each and every one of you enough.’
Leo was already a hot shot on the pitch and attended weekly training sessions with his local club when his story was first told in the press in August last year.
His team coach told how he could dribble and pass as well as other children using his frame, but all Leo wanted was to be able to play without his frame like the others on the team.
But the youngster had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old after suffering a stroke in the womb.
Cara said: ‘ I noticed he didn’t like being on his tummy and couldn’t pull himself up. My health visitor assured me babies all develop differently but I was sure something was wrong.’ She saw her GP and tests including a scan of his brain confirmed he’d suffered a stroke before birth.
Leo stood for the first time with the use of a frame aged two and quickly developed a love of football having watched it on TV with father Sam Stott, 24.
Cara said: ‘ We had feared he might never walk so to see him mobile with his frame and then playing football made us very proud.’
But Leo was desperate to be able to run and kick without it like the other kids.
But a £45,000 spine op known as a selective dorsal rhizotomy ( SDR)  to help him walk without the frame was at the time not available on the NHS.
So his mother Cara started fundraising to help make her son’s wish come true, calling her appeal Leo’s Dream to Walk.
She said: ‘ I have raised him to believe he can do anything and that is because I believed he could.’
Weeks into her appeal the NHS announced that SDR would be available to a limited number of children in a trial scheme. But with just five hospitals signed up to treat 120 children per year, she was warned Leo faced a long wait to determined if he was even eligible.
She said: ‘ I knew that the younger you are when you have the operation the better the results so I decided to keep fundraising anyway rather than wait and see.’
Family and friends started with local events but when Leo’s story appeared in the press along with footage of him playing football with his frame donations began to flood in.
Just days later the family were just £10,000 of their target when football boss Ken Bates heard about Leo and pledged to donate the rest of the cash needed.
Leo had already been accepted for a selective dorsal rhizotomy operation at Leeds General Infirmary and was finally able to book the operation.
The procedure, which took place last November, releases the tension in the legs, allowing for more intensive physiotherapy to ease the tension in the muscles.
Leo then began regular physiotherapy, both privately and on the NHS and mum Cara was astonished at her son’s progress.
She said: ‘ It was major spinal surgery that would have left an adult laid up for a long time but Leo was so desperate to get active that he bounced straight back.
‘I think the thought of playing football got him back onto his feet quicker then we ever imagined.’
By January this year he was playing football with leg splints and then inserts in his shoes to help him balance.
Cara said: ‘ A lot if it was confidence, he couldn’t actually believe he could really walk to start with.’
Cara continued fundraising to help pay for private physiotherapy and hydrotherapy and horse riding, to strengthen his legs and improve the success of the operation.
Now the delighted youngster has more confidence and can finally tackle and dribble unaided.
He started school last month and loves nothing more than a kick about with his pals.
Cara said: ‘ He’s just like one of the other boys now. I never thought I would see the day where Leo could start school without a frame or wheelchair.
‘Watching his walk into school with a huge smile on his face made me the proudest mum on earth.
‘He was always my hero but I’m so very proud of how well he has progressed. It goes to show you can achieve your dream.
‘When the public started donating I was overwhelmed and then when Mr Bates and his wife rang and said they wanted to donate the rest so we could book the operation I just burst into tears of joy.
‘The kindness of everyone who supported Leo has changed his life and I would like to see this operation available to all children who need it on the NHS.
Mr Bates backed that call, saying that he was appalled that the family had been forced to raise the money for themselves.
Cara added: ‘Every little boy and girl should have the chance to run and play with their friends, and of course play football if they want to.
‘There is no stopping Leo now.’