AN inspirational teenager is using his debilitating back problem to help fight the illness that killed his cousin’s baby.
Anthony Johnson, 16, was diagnosed with Scheuermann’s disease at the end of last year.
The condition causes a curvature of the spine, which is not permanent, but can leave the sufferer with a badly-deformed back.
To prevent it from happening in later life, Anthony, of Hetton, began swimming to exercise his core muscles and hits the pool at least three times a week.
Now he is using the sessions as training to complete a one-mile swim and raise money to help fight Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the illness which claimed his cousin Joanne’s eight-week-old son Jack.
He hopes to travel to Australia, were Joanne lives, and present a cheque to the charity, which hopes to fund research into the incurable disease, as well as create a new Jack Pack containing information for parents whose children have SMA.
Anthony, who has just left Hetton Comprehensive School for Sunderland College, said: “I was at the swimming baths for my back and I just thought I could do something.
“I asked my family what they thought and they suggested I could do something for Jack.”
Anthony’s mum Janet said: “He wrote to the charity SMA Australia to say the whole family was heartbroken and he wanted to do something.”
He decided he would take part in this weekend’s Great North Swim, at a loch in Strathclyde Country Park, near Glasgow, but was left disappointed when it was recently cancelled due to pollution in the water.
Janet said: “He was absolutely gutted the swim was cancelled, but he’s going to do 64 lengths of Hetton swimming pool.
“It won’t be the same, but he’s going to do it.
“I’ve been inspired by him because some kids just wouldn’t know what to do in that situation, but he’s so determined to do something.
“He’s had a lot of support from the family and my niece is absolutely delighted with it.
“We’re very proud of him. Kids these days get a lot of bad press, but he’s a good kid.
“He knew the only way to correct his posture was to swim and to turn that into something like this. He’s done so well.”
Anthony has already raised more than £400.
To support him contact the Johnson family on 517 1210.
SPINAL Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is the biggest genetic killer of babies and toddlers, with 50 per cent of the most severe diagnoses proving fatal by the age of two.
Those youngsters who do survive go on to suffer a life of progressive muscle wasting and loss of motor functions, without any impact on their mental capability, leaving smart youngsters trapped in a failing body.
At the moment, SMA is incurable and affects one in every 6,000 births.
There are three different types of the disease.
Type three, the mildest form, leaves newborn babies appearing healthy and is usually diagnosed after the age of two.
It can lead to the need for a wheelchair in later life.
Type two SMA occurs between six to 18 months old and prevents the child from every learning to walk, while type one causes difficulty even with breathing and often proves fatal.