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The incredible eight-year-old helped create the keyrings to keep himself busy while he learned to walk and talk again after suffering two heart attacks following a five-hour operation.
“Leon had a standing frame and he used to go with his physio and stand with keyrings in a kidney bowl in one hand, and an empty one for the money in the other,” smiles mum, Nia.
“He charged £2 for a keyring, but if they worked for the NHS he’d sell one for £1.
“When a doctor came from surgery to talk to someone on the wards, she stopped Leon to ask him if she could buy one. He had five left so he said, ‘tell you what, if you take all five you can have them for £5’. And she did.
“We nicknamed him Del Boy after that.”
Although staff at Alder Hey had already given him their own nickname – Little Miracle.
Leon battled for life after a series of setbacks, including two heart attacks that caused a brain injury, and now he’s determined to get back to the boy he was.
“He’s stubborn and he’s positive,” says Nia, “but thank goodness he is. Other young people might not have come back from what he has.
“I’m proud of what he has achieved – and I’m proud of what he has done to raise money to help other children like him.”
Leon, from Porthmadog in North Wales, was a normal, healthy little boy until early last year when he began to have trouble running, collapsing with breathlessness and dizziness when he tried.
Numerous tests at Alder Hey picked up that something was wrong, and a CT scan in September revealed that he had a double aortic arch in his heart which caused the blood vessels to wrap around his oesophagus, restricting the oxygen flow.
Leon had what was hoped would be a straight-forward operation to correct the defect in November, but although the procedure went well, his recovery didn’t go according to plan.
Mum Nia, 28, who with husband Richard also has a five-year-old Alfie, says: “We were told he would be in surgery to repair the problem for two or three hours but he was in for five.
“He went into critical care afterwards which was expected and, when I first saw him, he had been intubated (a tube fed into his windpipe to make it easier to get air into and out of his lungs). He was thirsty and very pale, but he was sitting up and talking.
“Later, Richard went to get something to eat while I phoned family to let them know how he’d got on, and then went back. They did a chest X-ray and everything looked fine and then Leon sat up and tried to lunge forward.
“He went completely unconscious and had a cardiac arrest. Leon was put on an ECMO machine to deliver oxygen to his blood and they didn’t think he would pull through.”
Nia adds: “One surgeon called him his Little Miracle because he didn’t think he would be here now.”
But despite a further cardiac arrest days later, thankfully he is.
“They think it happened because of a sudden drop in blood pressure – he is on medication for that now – and it caused hypoxic brain injury due to oxygen deprivation.”
Leon lost the ability to talk, walk and stand afterwards, as well as swallow and feed himself. He had to learn to do all that again, with the help of physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists.
He still has headaches and loses his balance, and has to use a wheelchair for now at least, but Leon is being regularly monitored, and he was allowed home earlier this month.
Nia says: “He will make a full recovery but we have been told it can take time. Patients are normally in hospital for four to six months at least, but Leon was in just three-and-a half.
“Leon is very determined which has helped him. He was athletic before all this happened, you’d never catch him sitting down unless he was playing his Xbox, he’d be out playing football with his friends.
“And he wants to get himself back to where he was before.
“Leon is such a loveable boy who touched a lot of the nurses and other staff at Alder Hey – they are amazing. Making the key rings was a way to keep Leon busy and occupied, and he loved raising money to help other children like him – he raised £250.
“It has inspired to raise much more money for Alder Hey – he has already told his teacher at Tiemadog School!”
It is a long road with much hard work until Leon gets back to full fitness, but Nia says: “He is so positive and he is the strongest little boy I know.
“Everyone’s amazed by his progress already. I kept the faith throughout and I believe if you stay positive, positive things will happen and, thankfully, Leon thinks so too.”
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