Cerebral palsy teen has surgery to play football

Rhys Lipscombe underwent six hours of surgery to straighten his arm and heel. Picture: Scott Taylor
Rhys Lipscombe underwent six hours of surgery to straighten his arm and heel. Picture: Scott Taylor
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A FOOTBALL-loving teenager forced to play the beautiful game on tiptoes because of cerebral palsy has undergone a ground-breaking operation, sparking dreams of a national cap.

Hibs diehard Rhys Lipscombe, 17, has recovered from six hours of pioneering surgery to help straighten his arm and heel at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children this year.

Now with enhanced dexterity and mobility, the teenager’s technique on the pitch has improved so much that he could aim for a place in the Scottish cerebral palsy squad for Disability Scotland.

Goalscorer Rhys was previously invited to try out for the national team aged 11 but opted instead for a starting berth in his school side at Pilrig High because he was limited by playing on his tiptoes.

Speaking about the innovative operation, Rhys said his life had changed.

He said: “I feel different – in a good way!

“I can now grab a ball with two hands and play football. It’s really good.”

Born with hemiplegia cerebral palsy, Rhys’s parents were told the infant would not survive longer than a few days following a traumatic labour, but the Boswall youngster proved the medics wrong.

Mum Debbie Lipscombe, 36, described how her son was “born not breathing”.

“He was taken to intensive care and was fitting and everything,” she said. “We were told he’d have 48 hours to live but then he suddenly picked up.

“We brought him home and it was just seeing what milestones he could reach and at three months we noticed he had a weakness of the right side which was around the leg and then they came to the conclusion he had a form of right-sided hemiplegia which affected his whole side.

“He never crawled, he could bum shuffle, and eventually got up and walked a wee bit later than usual.

“But he always walked on his tiptoes and since he’s been wee he’s always wore splints on his legs to try to keep the foot flat on the ground.”

Ms Lipscombe said the condition robbed her son of confidence because he was worried people were staring at him.

But she hailed the recent medical procedure “invaluable” and said Rhys had discovered a new level of independence after being able to walk home from school.

As well as his footballing ambitions, Rhys also wants to work with children with cerebral palsy to help them into sport.

Step-dad Robert Balfour, 39, said the operation had also injected a new-found confidence into the youngster.

He said: “He finds it easier to grab a ball using both hands.

“I think it’s brilliant and a way for him – he could hardly use his arm before but it was more self confidence and people looking at him like that, but now no-one looks at him. He’s just Rhys.”

Surgeons used Scotland’s first mini-image intensifier to perform the intricate operation.

The equipment, funded by the Sick Kids Friends Foundation (SKFF), provides a clearer magnified view of the tiniest components in the hands and feet by taking precise X-ray images with extremely low dose radiation to complete the operation.

Maureen Harrison, chief executive of the SKFF, said the “ground-breaking” technology will now be “life changing for these young people due to its ability to improve hand function and boost self-confidence”.

Rhys’s grandad, Stephen Borlick, 59, who escorted his Hibs-daft grandson to many of his football training sessions, said playing at a higher level was still “a thing that’s in his mind that he would like to go back to”.

“He likes to score goals,” said Mr Borlick.

“He has spoken about it and it came out of the blue when he said he was thinking about football again.

“I would love that because it’s an opportunity for him.”

katie.richardson@edinburghnews.com