Brave Leeds youngster's US flight of hope

Battling youngster Annabelle Rose Wardleworth is starting 2011 by flying to America for surgery that could transform her life.

Annabelle, five, from Cookridge in Leeds, was today due to travel out to the States ahead of the operation her family hopes will allow her to walk unaided for the first time.

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The quadraplegic spastic cerebral palsy sufferer's parents, Ben and Louise, raised 60,000 in the space of just nine months last year to pay for the surgery.

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And they are now keeping their fingers crossed that all goes well when she has her long-awaited surgery at St Louis Children's Hospital on Thursday.

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Ben, who is accompanying Annabelle to America with his wife and their other daughter, seven-year-old Amelia, said: "If someone had told us at the start of 2010 that we'd be in this position 12 months down the line, I don't think we'd have believed them. We've been genuinely amazed by the generosity people have shown to get us here."

The Wardleworths expect to be in the States for about five weeks while Annabelle recovers from her operation.

She is due to spend up to a week in hospital following the op but will go back on a daily basis for check-ups, physiotherapy and possible further orthopaedic surgery after she is discharged.

Thursday's initial procedure is called a selective dorsal rhizotomy and involves surgeons severing nerves in Annabelle's spine that are sending scrambled signals to her limbs.

Medics say there should be an immediate improvement in the looseness and flexibility of the Holy Trinity C of E (Aided) Primary School pupil's lower body.

It could, however, take as much as two years of hard physio work before she is ready and able to walk by herself.

"We are under no illusions about this being some sort of instant fix," said Ben. "We're just happy to be giving Annabelle the best chance of having an independent lifestyle as she grows up."

Selective dorsal rhizotomies have been made available on the NHS in the UK but only to a limited number of potential patients.

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