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Alfie and family

Alfie's smile says it all

Adorable Alfie Ashcroft has the same interests as big brothers, Hamish and Dougal, and identical twin, Rory. Like any high-spirited little boy, cars, toy swords and rough'n' tumble makes his blue eyes light up.

That's because cerebral palsy isn't going to stop little Alfie living life to the full.

Alfie and Rory (now aged three) were born by emergency caesarean section 10 weeks prematurely.

"I was in a lot of pain in the final days of my pregnancy, which I put down to the fact that I was carrying twins," explained mum, Emma Burtles.

It transpired 'twin to twin transfusion syndrome' had occurred during Emma's pregnancy – a condition affecting identical twin foetuses, caused by abnormal connecting blood vessels in the placenta and resulting in an imbalanced flow of blood from one twin to another.

A tough beginning

Within hours of the boys' birth, Emma and partner Dave were informed that Alfie had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

"I could hold them for five to 10 minutes each day, then have to return them to the incubator," remembers Emma. "While I desperately wanted to be there to bond and feed them, I felt terribly torn between them and my big boys at home. It was an incredibly tough beginning for all of us."

After 10 days 'full time' in hospital with her new-borns, Emma started splitting her time between Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and home, in 24 hour chunks. At home life continued, being mum to Dougal (2) and four-year-old Hamish, who had just started school.

In hospital, she gazed at the babies, held them when she could, expressed milk for them, did lots of crying and not much else.

After the caesarean, Emma was not able to drive so the 90 minute trips to the hospital were made by many friends and family.

The boys grew in weight and strength, and were able to go home after seven weeks.

At the age of seven months, however, a friend of Emma – who is a physiotherapist – established during play that the muscles in Alfie's legs were stiffer than those of twin, Rory.

"When I saw the paediatrician, it became clear he was lagging behind Rory, and wasn't reaching the same milestones," said Emma.

"I knew cerebral palsy was a possibility, but had convinced myself that wouldn't be the case. I'm an optimist – it's my way of coping - and when I realised that cerebral palsy was a possibility, I still believed that he would be able to achieve the main necessities of life: moving independently and communicating."

Helped by Bobath Scotland

Emma's positive attitude was bolstered by the fantastic therapy work carried out by Bobath Scotland.

Alfie attended the Bobath Scotland Cerebral Palsy Children's Therapy Centre in March 2009 for a two-week block of intensive therapy. Parents, grandparents, community physiotherapists and educational support staff joined in.

Alfie began sitting up unaided for a little while, and demonstrated a determination and strength in his legs his family hadn't seen before. And, while he has no means of verbal communication as yet, like any other toddler, he makes his parents aware when he needs attention.

"The whole Bobath experience taught us that we're not alone in this. Staff were so professional, pleasant and un-fazed by it all. Physically and emotionally, for Alfie and all of us, it was a fantastic experience. It really was a turning point for us – of acceptance of Alfie's cerebral palsy and that, although life will be very different for him, it does not mean it will be bad."

In only eight months, amazingly, Alfie's family and friends have raised nearly £11,000 in aid of Bobath Scotland through a series of their own fund-raising events and by taking part in the annual Bike for Bobath. They did this in order to give something back to all the people that have helped and supported them in their journey.

"We and the hundreds of people who've backed us wish Bobath therapy could be a part of the lives of so many more families," continued Emma.

"Alfie is doing very well in comparison with many children with cerebral palsy. He is engaged and understands a lot. Don't get me wrong. I've had my dark moments and felt pessimistic, sad and guilty, but I do believe in my heart that everything really is going to be fine. His smile says it all!

"We hope to be able to take Alfie back to the centre for another block of therapy by the end of the year. In the meantime, we'll continue our own therapy with him and finish gathering in the last of the money!"

Fundraising Standards Board

Bobath Scotland, Cerebral Palsy Therapy Centre, Bradbury House, 10 High Craighall Road, Craighall Business Park, Glasgow G4 9UD. Tel No 0141 352 5000 Email: info@bobathscotland.org.uk
Bobath Scotland is a Scottish Charity, Index no SC022695 and a company limited by guarantee, No. SC149287