Four months ago, little Nurak Charley had never walked a step in his young life.
The brave seven-year-old from the tiny Pacific island of Tanna, Vanuatu, was born with a birth deformity, complex congenital talipes equino varus, commonly known as club feet.
When he was first spotted by East Maitland Rotarian Brian Coffey, who was holidaying in Vanuatu in November 2011, Charlie, as he is now known, was crawling onto a field, trying to join in a game of football with other children.
But miracles happen in the Hunter every day.
And thanks to “Charlie’s angels” – the generosity of Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children, the incredible skill of John Hunter Children’s Hospital paediatric orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherpists, and the love of two families – Charlie is off and walking ... and riding.
On September 8, Charlie will be the “face and feet” of the Memory Walk in the Hunter, an annual event raising awareness and money for dementia.
Since arriving in Maitland in April, Charlie has undergone two major operations to correct his feet, which were rotated inward and under at the ankle, and has endured intensive physiotherapy, thigh-high plaster casts and splints.
Charlie’s plaster casts were finally removed on Monday and yesterday he visited Maitland Park with his mother Veronic and Mr Coffey.
Every little boy needs a bike and the the Mercury chipped in to present him with a new bicycle and helmet.
Between his stays in hospital, Charlie and his mother have been hosted by Mr Coffey and his wife Carol, and Lyn Thorpe, a member of the Adamstown-New Lambton Rotary Club, district chairwoman of ROMAC and, fortuitously, a surgical nurse at John Hunter Hospital.
Mrs Thorpe’s husband David and her brother Colin are Alzheimer’s patients and the family receives much-needed support from the Hunter Dementia Centre.
More than 321,000 Australians are living with dementia, with a further 1700 people diagnosed every week.
Mr Coffey said Charlie’s time in the Hunter had been life-changing.
He has not only been given the chance to walk but is now toilet-trained, can speak multiple words and count, and uses an iPad.
Veronic, who has two other small children on Tanna Island, and Charlie are likely to fly home late next month to start their new life.
All money raised from the Memory walk, which leaves Speers Point Park on Sunday, September 8, at 8.30am will go to the Hunter Dementia Centre.
To join the 2013 Memory Walk and Jog or to sponsor Team Charlie visit www.memorywalk.com.au/hunter