Northern Ireland

Billy Caldwell: Santa grotto helps Castlederg boy with epilepsy

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Media captionBilly Caldwell, who suffers from severe epilepsy, is said to have made huge progress thanks to the specially-adapted Santa's grotto

A Castlederg boy who has a severe form of epilepsy has been making huge progress thanks to the support of his local community and a Santa's grotto.

Billy Caldwell was six-months-old when his mother Charlotte was told by a Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children doctor that he would not survive.

Charlotte has raised thousands of pounds to take him to Chicago.

This is to enable Billy to receive life-saving treatment.

Billy is now aged nine and while his condition is still potentially life-threatening his mother says his progress has been a miracle.

"We never thought, myself or any member of my family, that we would get Billy to this stage where he is now running away from you when you go to wash his face or try and get him to clean his teeth," she said

Image caption Billy's mother said his progress had been a miracle

"He is running away or he is starting to learn how to say no, he will shake his head at you."

Following two years of intensive physiotherapy in America and another two years in England, Billy is now able to walk.

His physical progress is now being helped by horse riding which has also had a calming effect.

His story inspired the owner of a garden centre in Castlederg to adapt his Santa's grotto for children with special needs.

Gary Baird said: "We have all the paths you can wheel the wheelchairs around, we have a lot of lighting, even the roof is lit up and the children can go around and see the pond and water feature, and all the animals.

"They have time to just sit back and look, and to date they have really, really enjoyed it."

Image caption The owner of the grotto, Gary Baird, said it was important to him to continue supporting Billy and other children with epilepsy

Mr Baird said the grotto would also raise funds for the Riding for the Disabled centre in Omagh.

"Just to see how well Billy has come on, the therapy at the riding school, he has done a lot in nine years to be where he is at so I wanted to support him," he said.

Charlotte Caldwell said the efforts of people like Gary had been overwhelming.

"To see Billy and other children with special needs, to see them come in here and smile, you know, it's just something really simple, but they smile and appreciate it because the way he has adapted it, they really understand and appreciate it."

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