A seven-year-old Cork girl is on course to take her first ever steps by Christmas after a successful life-changing operation in the U.S.
Katie Byrne, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is recovering at St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri following an intricate spinal operation which will enable her to walk independently for the first time.
The youngster's parents, Antoinette McLoughlin and Robert Byrne, spent 18 months raising the €80,000 fee to cover the neurosurgical procedure, which is not covered by Ireland's health service.
But the Cobh-based couple, who have four older children, said their grueling fundraising efforts had paid off after the operation last Thursday was declared a success.
McLoughlin, 41, said, "Katie's surgery went very well. She's a little sore, which is natural, but other than that she is doing fine.
"Katie can also wiggle her toes for the first time in her life, something she could never do before. I cannot wait to see what other milestones she will achieve over the next few weeks."
The youngster, who up to now has used a wheelchair to get around, will spend another four weeks in the U.S., during which time she will be undergoing intensive post-operative physiotherapy.
But McLoughlin said the whole family has already started dreaming about what they are now certain will be Katie's most memorable Christmas for years.
“Each child responds differently to treatment, but there's a chance that Katie could be walking by Christmas, which for me will be the proudest and happiest moment since she was born. It would be like a Christmas miracle if that happened,” McLoughlin said.
"She's already told me she wants a bicycle from Santa and we'll make sure she gets one. She's a very determined character and it wouldn't surprise me if she's riding around on her bike as soon as she gets it."
She added, "Up to now she'd always have a sadness in her eyes when she was playing with her friends because she was unable to join in with them. But that's all about to change and there'll be no stopping her, because she's a real tomboy.
"She's mad about rugby and the Munster team were over in Cobh recently and promised her that she could join in with a training session once she's walking. She hasn't stopped talking about that."