A LIFE-changing operation allowing children with cerebral palsy to walk and which had up until now cost parents across Swindon nearly £25,000 will finally be available on the NHS – for the next three years.

Over the past decade the Adver has supported a number of families in their attempts to raise £24,000 towards the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy performed at the former Frenchay Hospital which, despite its impressive success rate, was deemed too expensive by health chiefs.

But Bristol Children’s Hospital has now announced it will pay for about 24 children from the south west each year to undergo the operation as part of a pilot.

While free surgery will lift an enormous financial burden, families will still have to shoulder the cost of the months of physiotherapy required post-operation. For many this will mean shelling out around £20,000.

The news was welcomed by Charlene Mazzotta, whose three-year-old son Jayden-Vito is due to meet with surgeons in September to determine whether he is eligible for the operation.

“It couldn’t come at a better time,” said the 31-year-old from Walcot. “I’m finding it hard to believe and I don’t know what to make of it all. I don’t want to get too excited until I have heard it from the professionals. And I don’t know if that means everybody will qualify for it.”

The Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy involves cutting nerves in the lower spine responsible for muscle rigidity and lasts up to five hours.

Bristol Children’s Hospital will be one of five centres which will evaluate the effectiveness of the operation during the two to three-year programme.

But for the Pike family, who struggled for three years to cobble together the sum through fundraising to allow their five-year-old son Jack to walk unaided, the news came six months too late.

Thanks to generous donations from people across Swindon, Jack received the operation in February. But the three stressful years spent trying to raise the £24,000 needed for the procedure and thousands more towards physiotherapy took their toll the family.

“It will be amazing for the children who need it and I am happy for them but I find it quite frustrating,” said the 28-year-old from Penhill. “I have seen the outcome with my child and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It should already have been on the NHS. But we can’t turn back time.

“You put everything on hold to fundraise. I don’t think people realise the stress it puts on all the family.’’