Mystery £20,000 donation smashes campaign target to help Sunderland boy to walk

Rachel and Neil Straughan with their son Liam, five and Jessica, two.
Rachel and Neil Straughan with their son Liam, five and Jessica, two.
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“THANK you so much.”That is the message today from the stunned family of Liam Straughan, of Houghton, after receiving an anonymous £20,000 donation which will change their son’s life.

Since an Echo campaign began less than a week ago, generous readers have helped Rachel and Neil Straughan smash their £30,000 fund-raising target so their son, who suffers from crippling cerebral palsy, can undergo a corrective spinal operation which will allow him to walk unaided for the first time.

Liam, five, was born 10 weeks premature and diagnosed with the condition at 18 months old.

Since then he has used a walking frame and supportive legs splints, and is in constant pain.

Now he will undergo surgery – selective dorsal rhizotomy – not currently funded by the NHS, to enable him to realise his dream of walking like his friends.

“I don’t know how to put into words how grateful I am,” said Neil, 39, a turner at Rolls Royce.

“This isn’t just a life changer for Liam, but for all of us.

“It has been tough since he was born, helping him to deal with it, and explaining to other people – other children – why he uses a walking frame when we just want him to have the same life as any other child. Now he will have that chance.”

Rachel, 35, an administration assistant, said Liam will be able to have the surgery and begin the two-year recovery process, which will teach him how to use muscles in his legs he has never used before, within a matter of weeks.

“We just can’t say thank you enough,” she said. “This will change our lives.

“If there is any way we could say thank you to the anonymous donor, we would like to show our appreciation.”

 Liam, who attends Dubmire Primary School, said he is grateful to everyone for helping to make his dream come true.

“Thank you for giving the money. I’m excited to get the operation and get my legs fixed so I can run and I can jump.”

Paula Middlebrook, manager at Lloyds TSB Fawcett Street where the secret benefactor made the donation, said the generous act had brought tears to her eyes.

“I’ve known this person for about 20 years and it did surprise me,” she told the Echo.

“What was said was that they felt that the boy deserves a chance to live a normal life as quickly as possible.

“I don’t think that giving such a donation is anything the person has done before, but they were touched by the story and wanted to help.”

Echo editor John Szymanski said: “It is astonishing how this appeal to help Liam has touched the hearts of Echo readers since we highlighted his plea last week.

“All the phone calls and messages showed how much people were moved by his plight, and £20,000 from a mystery benefactor is such a generous and marvellous gesture.

“We will keep readers informed of Liam’s progress and hope his operation is a big success to help him reach his goal.”

Neil and Rachel, also mum to Jess, two, say they will continue fund-raising so they can donate the extra money to children’s charity Tree of Hope.

“We really want to give something back to show how grateful we are to everyone,” said Neil, who will tackle the Yorkshire Three Peaks walking challenge in September for charity.

“We will go ahead with fund-raising events and other plans to help more children.

“I’m in shock. Seriously, thank you so much. I want to stress how grateful we are to everyone who has donated, and to the Echo for helping us reach the target so quickly.”

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