Alternative Lives | Original Link
by Jennifer King
Megan McLaughlin appears to be your average 4 year old girl. She loves dressing up, looking at animals and playing with her little sister and brother. The only visible difference between her and any other 4 year old becomes apparent when she moves.
Megan was diagnosed with Spina Bifida when she was still in the womb. Whilst she was a baby this did not really seem to affect her quality of life. It was not until she was old enough to have begun walking that her mother, Louise McLaughlin and father, Robert McLaughlin, Watford, realised they would have to do everything within their power to help her to walk.
Spina Bifida takes effect around the 8th week of pregnancy. It affects the spinal column as it is developing. The column fails to ‘close’ properly and leaves a section of nerves exposed which then leads to irreversible damage.
The location of the damaged spinal column section determines the severity of the effects. In Megan’s case, the opening was as low down on her spine as it could be. Many Spina Bifida sufferers cannot use their legs at all and they are limp. In Megan’s case, she has limited sensation below her knees and is unable to weight bare.
At 4 years old now, Megan still uses a wheelchair and specialist equipment such as braces, walking frames and even a specialist bike in order for her to get around. Even so, Megan has gone from strength to strength throughout her short life, and has amazed professionals who said the she would never control her legs and would struggle to sit upright.
Louise, (30) set up A Wish for Megan which is an organisation set up to help their family to pay for equipment that is essential for her to one day walk on her own. The funding that they have raised so far have bought Megan a wheelchair better suited to her needs, a specialised bike so that she can go on bike rides with her family, and Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthosis braces which help to support Megan below the knee and help her to walk by herself.
A Wish for Megan does not qualify for charity status as it tenders to the needs of an individual. Louise said, “This makes our efforts even harder with companies unwilling to help. However, we will continue to work hard and achieve our aims.”
As Megan grows out of her equipment, her family plan on donating any equipment that she can no longer use to children who would really benefit from it.
In September 2011 the McLaughlin family were lucky enough to witness Megan take her first 3 unaided steps. “I was sooooo proud of her! Megan is a cheeky little girl, but has never let her disability get in her way. She is a fantastic older sister.”
“Our organisation aims to provide for Megan’s future without the need for her to compromise on her physical needs. As yet, we don’t know any families in the same position or young sufferers of Spina Bifida. We would love to hear from anyone in a similar situation.”
The McLaughlin family are aiming to provide Megan with enough care to enable her to play with children her own age without any prejudice. Megan’s positive ‘can do’ attitude has helped her to defy doctors and learn to walk with the aid of walkers and leg supports.
Megan’s legs grow stronger every day through the use of physiotherapy and the aids that A Wish for Megan has helped to fund. Her family hope that this time next year, Megan will be walking unaided.
Dr. Sheila Shribman, National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Maternity Services said, “If I was the parent of a child who had an illness or disability or indeed any kind of health problem I’d want to have time with my doctor for them to listen to me and to understand my concerns.”
“When a child and family come to the outpatient clinic they may need no tests at all. Perhaps its just about listening and talking and then the problem can be sorted out without any tests. In order to ensure we provide excellent services for children and families we really need to make sure that we take their needs and opinions and views into account and we put them at the centre of everything that we do.”
There are forums online for parents who have children with Spina Bifida to get in touch with each other and discuss the help available to them as well as helping each other. There is also a lot of information available through the NHS to help parents know what to expect as well as providing information on the prevention and treatment of Spina Bifida.