BATTLING baby Oliver Smart has endured intricate surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his spine which left him paralysed from the waist down.
But now the parents of the nine-month-old face an agonising wait to find out whether the surgery has been a success and will enable their precious son to walk, eventually play football, and live a normal life.
Mum and dad David and Mandy Smart held a bedside vigil with their baby at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where experts carried out the risky procedure to remove the two-and-a-half inch tumour which was detected on the youngster’s spine.
Its pressure on the tot’s tiny spine left him unable to move his legs, and also with bowel and kidney problems.
Doctors initially tried to shrink the tumour with chemotherapy drugs but to no avail, so surgery became the only option to give him the chance of mobility.
The pair have been boosted by the news that the tumour is unlikely to spread throughout Oliver’s tiny body, but at the same time devastated that there is a possibility their son could be left wheelchair-bound if the surgery does not prove to a success.
Doctors opened up Oliver’s back and had to remove a section of his spine before trying to graft the bones back together.
Oliver was born seemingly perfectly healthy, but was diagnosed as having the neuroblastoma growth after initially picking up a chest infection aged just seven months.
But when the illness failed to clear up and he started to lose the use of his legs, his parents took him to the One Life Centre, in Park Road, Hartlepool, where he was then sent by ambulance to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
When his condition there did not improve and his lungs started to collapse, doctors carried out x-rays and discovered a lump pressing between his spine and his chest.
He was then rushed by ambulance to the RVI where a biopsy of the growth revealed the growth was cancerous.
The couple, from Dryden Road, in the Rift House area of Hartlepool, have spent the last six weeks keeping a 24-hour vigil at brave Oliver’s bedside.
In the meantime, their four other children - Joshua, seven, six-year-old Courtney, Thomas, four, and Riley, two, have had to be put into temporary foster care as there is no-one else to care for them.
David, 37, who does not work due to back problems, said: “When the specialist told us he had a tumour I just didn’t understand and Mandy just started throwing up.
“Then they tested the tumour and told us it was cancer, we were just absolutely devastated. It’s all been a blur since then.
“We just thought that was it, he was going to die.
“I had hoped so much that it was going to be a mistake, but our world came crashing down around us.”
He added: “Oliver was always so full of life and always kicking his legs and trying to support himself when you had hold of him.
“To see him go from that to just all floppy with no use of his legs is just awful. I’m just praying that the doctors can remove some of the tumour and that he’ll be able to eventually walk and play football like other kids. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Mandy, 26, a full-time mum, said: “I keep getting angry, constantly asking myself ‘why him?’, ‘why not one of us?’. It’s just not right.
“It’s just ripping us apart all of this, we’re devastated over Oliver and then we’ve had to put our other four children into temporary foster care to help us while we’re staying up here.
“It’s awful, we miss them so much.
“It’s the little things you miss like putting them to bed. They understand that it’s not forever and it’s just while Oliver’s in hospital, but they still get a bit upset sometimes.”
She added: “We’re just hoping the operation has been a success. W e’ll just have to see what’s going to happen next.”