Little Derek Russell struggled even to walk properly just a year ago after being born with cerebral palsy – but now he’s fighting fit.
Following life-changing surgery in America, the three-year-old is taking kickboxing classes as his miraculous turnaround continues.
It has been a long road for the Washington triplet who, since he was born, has been unable to play as freely as brother and sister Daniel and Terri.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and the Wearside public, more than £30,000 was raised towards selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) – surgery on the lower spine – to counteract the effects of cerebral palsy and allow the keen Sunderland fan to lead a normal life.
The procedure was carried out in October last year at St Louis Children’s Hospital, Missouri.
As well as now being able to walk and run like his siblings, Derek, who turns four next month, is even taking his first tentative steps into the world of martial arts with Toukon Martial Arts, through sessions at Washington Village Community Centre.
His loving mum Michelle, 35, of Horsley Road, Barmston, told the Echo: “It’s just amazing how much Derek’s come on in the past few months.
“He can do so much now that he couldn’t before such as running, jumping, even trivial things like moving his toes.
“And now he’s doing martial arts to help with his balance and discipline. He can’t do a proper class with being so young, but it fits into his physio plan each week and he’s really enjoying it.”
Derek’s family had been concerned that he would not be able to attend a mainstream school because of condition, but he is now set to start Barmston Primary School in September.
“Derek’s going to be mixing with other kids who are his own age,” added Michelle, married to Derek’s dad, also called Derek, 40.
“The school have been brilliant in asking us what he needs.
“They help out with his physio and are really supportive. We’re getting as much help as would as a special school.”
The family say that while Derek will need further physio for years to come, they will be forever indebted to those who donated money for Derek’s operation, including the fishing community on Wearside, who Derek Snr is part of.
“It’s great for us to tell people where the money has gone,” said Michelle, also mum to John, 18, Rebecca, 15, Anthony, 13, and Joseph, 11.
“There are no words that can describe how grateful we are, we couldn’t be more thankful.
“We would not have been able to do this without them, literally.”