Our brave ballerina

Crippling pain can't stop my Jade from twirling around...

Published by: Jai Breitnauer
Published on: 19th May 2010

Sitting on the sofa with my mum Glenis, we waited for my daughter Jade to start her show.
‘Are you ready, dear?’ Mum asked, as my little girl put the finishing touches to her outfit – a pink leotard and net tutu.
‘Nearly,’ she said, holding out a little tub of plastic flowers. ‘When I’m finished, throw these and shout Bravo! like they do on TV.’
I couldn’t help but feel proud – this prima ballerina routine happened every day. It was so sweet, we never got bored.
But there was sadness behind our smiles. You see, when Jade was two and a half, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She could barely walk, let alone dance.
Now, as we watched her wobble across the living room floor, my heart broke. The look of concentration on her face, her determination to put on a good show… She was a real fighter!
My pregnancy with Jade hadn’t been easy. I’d bled several times, and they’d induced me two weeks early.
‘Is she okay?’ I’d croaked, as they’d handed me my tiny 5lb 12oz baby girl.
‘Small, but perfectly formed!’ Mum chuckled.
Jade was a joy. She smiled almost immediately, and she was waving when she was just a few months old.
‘But when it comes to walking, I can’t get her on the go,’ I’d sighed.
‘Don’t worry,’ Mum smiled. ‘She’ll do it when she’s ready.’
But by her second birthday, she still hadn’t taken a single step. ‘We’ll refer her for tests,’ the health visitor said, and we were sent to see a specialist.
Over the next six months, they scanned her, filmed her and monitored her flexibility. Slowly, she started walking, holding on to a toy buggy.
‘Look at her legs,’ I’d whispered to Mum one day. With a look of determination on her face, Jade stumbled along the carpet, trying to get to a doll on the other side of the room, but she kept falling over.
‘Her left leg bends right in!’ Mum gasped. ‘It’s tripping her up!’
My heart sank. I’d seen that type of walking before. I couldn’t remember where, but I knew it meant cerebral palsy.
Tearfully, I’d asked the specialist about it at Jade’s next appointment.
‘It’s the most likely explanation,’ he’d sighed. ‘Your bleeds during pregnancy must have starved her brain of oxygen.’
A few weeks later, I got a letter confirming it. When I read the words cerebral palsy – spastic diplegia, I nearly threw up.
Heartbroken, I went to ask my doctor to explain it.
‘Spastic just means her muscles don’t work properly,’ he said, gently. ‘They’re not getting signals from her brain. Diplegia means it’s only her legs that are affected. She’s lucky – she won’t have any problems with her arms or hands.’
‘But they said she may never walk unaided,’ I’d sniffed.
‘Just keep encouraging her, and do physiotherapy. You’ll see,’ he said.
Soon, we were doing Jade’s prescribed exercises daily. She was always keen to get out of the buggy and hobble around.
Then one day, when she was three, Angelina Ballerina was on TV.
‘I want to dance!’ she announced, bopping to the music.
That was the day she put on her first show. With a huge effort, she tried to spin around while I watched – she fell flat on her back.
‘Oh, sweetheart!’ I’d cried, rushing to help. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Get off, Mummy!’ she’d snapped, rolling her eyes. ‘I didn’t fall – it’s a move.’
I’d tried not to smile. ‘Oh, I see. What’s that one called?’ I’d asked.
‘It’s a… a jabberhonky!’ she’d grinned. ‘Look, I’ll do it again.’
She was always making up names for her falls and tumbles, pretending they were cool
 new dance moves.
Jade was so keen on dancing, I took her to tap classes. With Mum and me holding her hands, the three of us tapped away.
‘That was fun,’ she smiled. ‘But I prefer my own dancing.’
I understood. If she fell over in tap classes, everyone knew about it, but at home she could cover it up.
When Jade started school, only one thing bothered her.
‘They all want to know why I walk funny,’ she sulked.
‘You know what to tell them,’ I sighed, stroking her hair. ‘It’s because the muscles in your legs don’t work properly.’
‘I just ignore them,’ she said, proudly. ‘My legs are fine.’
Jade is so determined not to be different, she refuses to use her frame or her wheelchair, she’d much rather cling to the wall or desks for support, but she will use her mobility scooter with its bright pink ‘JADE’ number plate.
She’ll be nine this year, and she’s still putting on her shows. But now she’s in constant pain.
‘Mummy, my hips hurt,’ she sighs, when I find her sprawled
on the sofa watching Strictly Come Dancing.
There is an operation to stop the pain, and make walking a bit easier, but it’s only available in America, and it costs £40,000.
We have £15,000 already. But every month we wait, it becomes more likely Jade will be confined to a wheelchair for life – the damage she is doing to her hip joints is irreversible.
Despite everything, though, she still dreams of being a ballerina. She’ll pull on her tutu and, clutching the wall for support, begin to dance.
Pauline Mitchell, 29, East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire