When eight-year-old Caya Newman was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy as a baby, her family was told bluntly that she ‘would never run a marathon’.
The painful condition – known as spastic diplegia cerebral palsy – affects Caya’s muscles, and means she can no longer walk unaided.
But a major community fundraising drive in Fulham is set to help raise the cash needed for Caya, who attends Sulivan Primary School, to have a life-changing operation in the new year.
Dozens of locals have pledged to walk a sponsored marathon around South Park on 19 November in a bid to help Caya.
Caya’s mum Lucy Machin explained that after NHS funding was stopped for the selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) operation, which will cut the nerves in the spinal cord that contribute to the schoolgirl’s condition, she was determined to find a way to foot the bill.
“At eight she is becoming more and more aware of finding things harder than her peers and her younger sister,” said Lucy, of Townmead Road, Fulham. “And finding this more and more unfair.”
But after five months of fundraising, only a fraction of the cash needed – which includes £31,000 for the operation and at least another £10,000 for the ongoing, intensive physiotherapy required afterwards – had been donated.
Caya – who was diagnosed with her condition at 18 months old – couldn’t understand why she couldn’t raise the money herself through making things to sell, added Lucy.
However, a chance conversation has helped the family come a step closer to achieving the full amount – thanks to a kind-hearted stranger.
Sulivan Primary School PTA member Jemma Greenslade, a mum of two children at the school, had been drumming up support for Caya’s cause at a local café when a man approached her.
“He wanted to know what we were doing and, when I explained, he told me to leave it with him,” said Jemma.
“I was busy with school and the PTA so didn’t think much about it, but when I bumped into the man again, he said he could help us raise a large amount of the money.”
The mysterious benefactor was building contractor GM Developments’ project manager John Phoenix, who has persuaded his company, business associates and colleagues to pledge up to £30,000 – if he completes the marathon with the other walkers.
John, who lives in Battersea, will be taking part in the marathon effort with 10 colleagues from GM Developments, and said when he overheard the mums discussing Caya’s operation, he felt compelled to help.
“I have done mini-marathons and took part in the London-Brighton bike ride, but never a full marathon,” explained John. “But this will mean so much to Caya – she is a beautiful little girl and why wouldn’t we want to help make sure she can have this operation?”
Fundraising for youngsters is a cause close to John’s heart, after his 17-year-old son died of a heart attack while playing football.
“When I told Caya’s mum Lucy about the support from John and GM Developments, I thought she might pass out,” revealed Jemma. “She burst into tears and was shaking. She had every emotion you could possibly have.”
Lucy told Hammersmith & Fulham Council that the support and generosity from people had been ‘overwhelming’.
“It is lovely that people want to help, they have such good hearts,” she added.
The walkers will need to complete 42 laps of South Park – a feat that is expected to take around eight hours – to ensure they meet their sponsorship target.
“We’ll 100 per cent do it, and every step is worth it to make a huge difference to Caya,” said Jemma.
Caya’s operation has now been booked for 7 January at the Portland Hospital, the UK’s largest private children’s hospital.
Mum Lucy added: “When Caya was first diagnosed we asked her consultant what the condition meant and we were bluntly told ‘Put it this way, she’ll never run a marathon’.
“We want to prove her wrong.”
Give your support to the walkers in South Park, Fulham from 8am on 19 November or to donate to Caya’s operation and aftercare visit her fundraising page.