Mercury makes Michael's dream come true
PUBLISHED: 15:22 24 May 2011 | UPDATED: 15:30 24 May 2011
"WESTON'S support has been priceless" - so says a delighted mum who learned this week that an incredible £38,000 cash award will help her son to walk for the first time.
"When I heard about Michael’s condition I arranged to go and meet him and his mum to find out how we might be able to help out. This is exactly why we raise the funds we do."
Earlier this year, the Mercury’s Make A Difference Campaign encouraged people to apply for a one-off life-changing grant from Weston’s Axentis Michael Charitable Trust.
And the trust – set up in memory of Axentis Michael, father of Grand Pier owners Kerry and Michelle Michael – has now selected its winner: A 12-year-old schoolboy with an indomitable spirit and a remarkable zest for life.
As previously reported in the Mercury, Michael McKenzie was born with one leg half the length of the other, and has undergone a gruelling series of 19 operations around the world to lengthen the limb by a record-breaking 31 centimetres.
However, the biggest – and costliest – challenge still remains. Michael now needs further ‘massive’ surgery to give him the hip and knee joints which will make him fully mobile.
"When Mr Michael left we were cheering and screaming, and then my mum got really embarrassed because he was still going down our drive and the windows were open."
But with the pioneering procedures not available on the NHS, Michael’s mum Ginette has again been forced to look overseas – and that means another huge medical bill running into tens of thousands of pounds.
The good news for Michael is that his plight immediately captured the hearts of Weston people. Several venues, including Hollywoods, Sweat FA and Barcode, staged fund-raisers, while a charity in the McKenzies’ former home town of Blackpool made a major contribution.
The bad news was that this still left a shortfall of close to £40,000 – until the Axentis Michael trust came to the rescue.
Although final calculations are still being made, Axentis’ son Kerry has pledged that the trust will foot the outstanding bill, ensuring Michael’s dream will come true.
"It’s not just the money. The support we have had in Weston has been priceless. "
Kerry said: “We set the charitable trust up to support good causes in and around the town, and I am delighted that we are able to help Michael in such a positive way.
“When I heard about Michael’s condition I arranged to go and meet him and his mum to find out how we might be able to help out. This is exactly why we raise the funds we do.”
The trust made its decision after Michael won overwhelming support in the Mercury’s Make A Difference campaign, gathering around eight times as many nominations as any other hopeful.
And it is that kind of support from around Weston which 36-year-old Ginette says has been such a boost for the family.
The Milburn Road mum-of-three said: “Mr Michael came to our house and chatted to me and Michael, and after a bit he said he would like to write me a cheque.
“I thought he meant he’d like to make a donation, but when he said it was for the whole £38,000, I could not believe my ears.
“I am so grateful as it has taken a lot of the pressure off me to raise the money in time.
“But it’s not just the money. The support we have had in Weston has been priceless.
“The next operation is the most massive yet, but with this kind of support from around Weston we feel it’s all been worth it.”
That kind of optimism is a far cry from the day Michael was born, and doctors advised Ginette that amputation was the only real option.
Ginette refused to accept the prognosis, and the family spent years – and all their money, after selling their home – searching for the answer.
And now they’ve found it.
Overjoyed Priory Community School pupil Michael said: “When Mr Michael left we were cheering and screaming, and then my mum got really embarrassed because he was still going down our drive and the windows were open.
“I am really, really happy that I will be able to have my surgery and very, very grateful to the Michael family for their kindness.”