SDR Ten Years On - Catching up with Charlene and Oliver

05 Jun 2024

SDR Ten Years On - Catching up with Charlene and Oliver

Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR): A Life-Changing Procedure for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Deciding on medical procedures for your child can be daunting, especially major surgeries like Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR). This radical “snip in the spine” procedure is primarily used to treat spasticity in children with cerebral palsy. By precisely cutting certain sensory nerve fibers in the spinal cord, SDR reduces muscle stiffness and improves mobility. While not a cure for cerebral palsy, SDR can significantly enhance a child's quality of life, increasing their ability to move more freely and independently while reducing pain.

Oliver Dickey's SDR Journey: 10 Years Later

We caught up with football enthusiast Oliver Dickey and his mum, Charlene, to see how things are going 10 years post-surgery and to hear their advice for other families considering SDR.

In 2014, when Oliver was just six years old, his family raised an astonishing £90,000 to travel to St. Louis Children's Hospital for SDR. Oliver was the first child from Northern Ireland to undergo this surgery in St. Louis. Before the surgery, he was completely wheelchair-bound and in constant pain due to muscle tightness.

Why SDR?

Charlene shared, “When Oliver was first diagnosed, I was given a book that briefly mentioned SDR. I dismissed it initially, but the idea kept niggling at the back of my mind.” Oliver was turned down for surgery in the UK, but with the support of a pediatrician, Charlene contacted Dr. Park, the pioneer of SDR surgery in the USA.

A Magical Wish Comes True

In December, Oliver and his dad visited magical Lapland, thanks to the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland Trust. Charlene recalls, “Oliver wished to walk like his younger brother, Max. The next day, we received an email from Dr. Park confirming Oliver was suitable for SDR. It was all systems go!”

Fundraising Success and Surgery

With fantastic support from Northern Ireland and help from celebrities like Joan Collins and Sir Alan Sugar, funds were raised in a few months. Oliver underwent surgery in July 2014. Charlene remembers, “Everything went smoothly until day three, which was July 4th. Everything was shut, Oliver was very sore, and I had a ‘what have I done?’ moment, but Dr. Park was incredibly reassuring, and this soon passed.”

Post-Surgery Recovery and Physiotherapy

The family stayed in America for four weeks post-op for physiotherapy. Charlene described the experience as amazing, saying, “All the staff know how to deal with children’s wee wobbles and tantrums. Everyone made us feel at home.”

However, the real work started after surgery. “Intensive physio is essential to gain maximum benefit from the operation,” Charlene said. Besides weekly physio sessions, Oliver attended intensive courses, including Walk This Way and Swimlab. Ten years later, Oliver still has weekly strength and conditioning sessions with PT Chris Gregg, alongside NHS physio sessions.

Life-Changing Outcomes

Charlene was realistic about the surgery’s outcomes. “We knew SDR wasn’t a magic wand and that Oliver would always need an aid to walk, but the difference has been life-changing.” Before SDR, Oliver couldn't even get on the sofa and had to crawl around. After the operation, he started taking independent steps. Charlene emphasized, “It’s not just about walking; it’s also about the pain – people don’t realize the amount of pain children are in.”

Adolescence and Future Plans

Now a teenager, Oliver is preparing for his GCSEs and has a special interest in sports studies. He hopes to use his experiences to help other children with physical challenges. Adolescence has brought challenges as his center of gravity changed, leading to falls and injuries. He will undergo foot reconstruction surgery this summer, but Charlene remains positive. Despite initial doubts from UK medical professionals, Charlene reflects, “We always said if we got 10 good years, SDR was worth the risk. We have certainly had that.”

Advice for Other Families

Charlene advises other parents, “Don’t let fundraising or the price put you off. Be your child’s voice. Fundraising for post-op physio is essential, but every penny adds up.” She praised Tree of Hope for their support, saying, “It was such a relief to not deal with the money and have everything kept separate.”

Encouragement and Support

Charlene encourages other families to connect with parents in similar situations. “If you’re turned down once, don’t take it as gospel. Dr. Park gave us hope when no one else did, and I can’t fully express our gratitude to him.”

Tree of Hope is thrilled to see the difference SDR has made for Oliver and his family and wishes him the best with upcoming driving lessons!

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