A determined seven-year-old Cork girl has told her parents she has just one wish for Christmas -- to walk for the first time in her life.
Katie Byrne, who suffers from cerebral palsy, will head to the U.S. this week ahead of life-changing surgery to enable her to walk independently.
The youngster, who uses a wheelchair to get around, is following in the footsteps of a number of other young Irish sufferers of the neurological disorder who have successfully undergone an intricate spinal operation at St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri and who -- with intensive post-operative physiotherapy -- have gone on to walk unaided.
Her parents Antoinette McLoughlin and Robert Byrne spent 18 months raising funds to cover the $80,000 operation, which is not covered by the Irish health service.
But speaking ahead of the neurosurgical procedure later this month, her Cobh-based parents said they have every hope that Katie will take her first steps by Christmas.
McLoughlin, 41, who has four older children with her partner, said, "I'm feeling pretty nervous at the moment, but I keep reminding myself that every operation up to now has been a complete success.
"But I've never seen Katie so excited before. She's just hyper and it's the only thing on her mind. She wants to walk like her pals and be able to do everything that they do.
"I sometimes see the sadness in her eyes when she's playing with her friends and can't 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."
The youngster will spend over five weeks in total in the U.S., the bulk of which will be spent undergoing physiotherapy following her scheduled operation on October 23.
But McLoughlin said the whole family has already started dreaming about what they are certain will be their 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,” she 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."