Despite being born with a one-in-a-million bone deficiency that resulted in his right leg being amputated, five-year-old Rio Woolf is facing life with a spring in his step after being fitted with a prosthetic leg just like the one used by his Paralympic hero, Jonnie Peacock. By Caron Kemp
Like most five-year-old boys, Rio Woolf loves sports – especially basketball and running. His favourite TV show is Fireman Sam. He adores chocolate buttons but detests tomatoes. His teachers would say he’s popular, friendly and outgoing and always tries his best.
But born with a one-in-a-million bone deficiency called Tibial Aplasia, which meant he had no shin bone and no knee or ankle joint in his right leg, this determined little boy has had some very big challenges to overcome already.
Having been mistakenly told that their unborn son had club foot, parents Juliette and Trevor were understandably shaken when Rio entered the world three weeks early in May 2008.
And with medical students queuing up to get a sighting of this special baby and councillors sent in to talk to the couple, the new parents quickly realised that life was about to take on a new direction.
“It was a terrible shock,” recalls 44-year-old Bushey United synagogue member Juliette. “I lost two stone in one week from the trauma. It just isn’t the life you expect for your child.”
After consulting top paediatric orthopaedic surgeons in the UK, Israel and America and travelling to Germany for a second opinion, they made the difficult decision to have Rio’s leg amputated through the knee as the surgeons were unanimous in their opinion that this was the only way to give Rio a life out of a wheelchair.
“For patients with limb deficiencies, the advances are in the field of high technology prostheses not surgery, so this really was our best option,” admits Juliette. “We had to make peace with the decision on a practical level but you never make peace with it on an emotional level. We signed a consent form for our son to be an amputee and that’s tough.”
Rio underwent the major surgery at 14-months-old and was subsequently fitted with an NHS prosthetic leg.
A year to the day after the operation Rio took his first tentative steps but the biggest transformative moment for the entire family was when the Olympics came to London last summer.
“I knew that even at a young age Rio could be inspired by the Paralympians,” says Juliette. “And ever since we watched Jonnie Peacock he has wanted to emulate his hero.”
Knowing that in order to move more freely and learn to run like his idol he would need to switch from the heavy rigid NHS osthesis to a blade similar to the one used by Peacock, his devoted parents searched for a solution.
After attending the Primary Amputee Games hosted by LimbPower, and when the charity put them in touch with Channel 4 News to make a promotional video for Sports Fest alongside Peacock, private prosthetic limb manufacturer Dorset Orthopaedic took note and offered to sponsor Rio’s first blade at a cost of £4,000.
Made of carbon fibre and decorated with Fireman Sam, the lightweight blade was fitted last December. “Rio was becoming downhearted that he couldn’t keep up with his friends,” says Juliette. “But now not only can he run and jump just like his peers but he is so proud of his special leg and much more confident. Now he’s always running and smiling.”
However, the transformative blade will need replacing regularly as Rio grows. With an estimated financial commitment of £70,000, the family are now ploughing all their efforts into raising enough money to ensure that Rio can continue to wear a blade and pursue his dream of representing Great Britain in the 2024 Paralympics.
And on 21 July, Rio will play his part in the fundraising by taking part in the National Lottery Family Run; poignantly held on the Olympic Stadium track.
“Rio has had a difficult start in life,” admits Juliette. “But the future is exciting. There are so many more opportunities for differently-abled children like Rio. London 2012 has redefined the word disability. As his parents we can’t ask for more.”
• Sponsor Rio at www.justgiving.comRUN-RIO-RUN
and www.twitter.com/JulietteWoolf #BLADEBOYRIO