Festive joy for Wearside family with special Christmas gift

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Denise Jackson, Janette Husband, bother Kye, step dad Callum, mum Josene, Jordan Stoker and Russ Hellens.
Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Denise Jackson, Janette Husband, bother Kye, step dad Callum, mum Josene, Jordan Stoker and Russ Hellens.
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Battling Zak McCarthy will be able to zip around his own roads after a benefactor covered the cost of a garden revamp for his family.

The three-year-old suffers from a mystery illness which means he cannot walk unaided and suffers an aversion to sunlight.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway.

Now he will be able to enjoy the outdoors without fear of injury after the cost of turning his family’s garden into a landscaped haven, with a safety surface laid down so he won’t be injured if he takes a tumble, was covered by a kind-hearted family business. Zak, who has autism, loves lines and zebra crossings and will be able to become the master of his own toy town thanks to the Christmas gift which has been designed especially for him.

The project, which cost four figures to complete, has been funded by Hetton aggregate firm Wilf Husband.

The late Wilf - father of Janette, 51, and Wilf, 43 - was treated by Zak’s grandmother Denise Jackson, who works as an auxiliary nurse at Houghton Health Centre.

In addition to Zak’s track and canvas awnings to offer him shade, his brother Kye, six, has been given tree house by his gran, with a decking area set aside so the family can look on as they play.

We know this is going to make him so happy.

Denise Jackson

Denise, 56, said: “It’s fabulous and it was finished off for Christmas.

“When I was told it was going to be done, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

“We’re just so grateful.

“All we wanted was a garden so he can get out, because we don’t know how long he has got.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Russ Hellens and Janette Husband.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Russ Hellens and Janette Husband.

“We know this is going to make him so happy.

“The whole project was like something out of DIY SOS, it’s been such a massive thing to do.

“I just feel like Janette is my fairy godmother.

“It can never be enough to say thank you alone, but this will transform life for Zak, who continues to struggle, to understand life in general, and must think it is a very strange place.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Russ Hellens and Janette Husband.

Zak McCarthy tries out his newly created garden roadway, with Russ Hellens and Janette Husband.

“He is also denied lots of pleasures and everyday things in his life, to which we all take for granted, due to his undiagnosed condition.”

The family has now started to use the new space outside their home.

Denise added: “He has been given the chance to really enjoy it, flapping his little hands with excitement and smiling more, which he has only just started doing in the last few months.

“No one can understand how happy this makes us all feel when we see his reactions to his new venture area built for him in his own new back garden and the family to enjoy without the worry of thinking ‘how can we make this happen for him?’”

The work was carried out by Russ Hellens of Gardens Made Easy in Houghton, who worked with the family on the plans.

Janette, who lost her 73-year-old dad to prostate cancer in June and her mum Anne, 65, to pancreatic cancer in 2010, had told Denise estimates were being drawn up for the garden, before she revealed the cost of the revamp would be covered.

Janette said: “Denise was so excellent when she helped my dad and everything she did for him and she told me about Zak.

“I couldn’t wait to see the garden finished.

“I asked Russ to take a look at it, and he said no problem.

“He’s done a great job.

“It’s total amazing, it’s much better than I thought could be possible and when I saw the garden, it was so emotional.

“Zak was just smiling, it was just priceless to see.”

Doctors are looking at Zak’s DNA as they piece together the cause of his condition.

Medics working in the genetic clinics at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle are studying his make up and have suggested he could have a mitochondrial condition, where cells do not produce enough energy, or do not work at all or very efficiently.

His sight and hearing is also affected.

The Sunningdale School pupil has undergone a series of tests, with specialists from Great Ormond Street among those consulted by his team, which also includes doctors at Newcastle General and Sunderland Royal.

His condition means he cannot talk unaided, talk and has to be fed through a line into his stomach.

His family realised something was wrong when he did not smile as a baby and tears would roll down his cheeks when he was fed.

“They are still trying to diagnose him, but they have said whatever it is is rare.

“He’s had biopsies and they’re open to all available things. They’re hoping his DNA will be able to give them some clues.”

Zak lives with mum Josene, 25, step-dad Callum Smith, 23, brother Kye, six, and sister Darcy Smith, one.

Denise set up a fund to help cover the cost of equipment to help him thrive.

Donations can be made via www.gofundme.com/y8gjy8g.