Five-year-old conquers fear of heights to help friend

Benji takes to the Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Leon McGowran
Benji takes to the Forth Road Bridge. Picture: Leon McGowran
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A FIVE-YEAR-OLD boy has conquered his fear of heights with a charity walk across the Forth Road Bridge and back – to raise money for his friend who suffers from a rare genetic disorder.

Brave Benji Leech was determined to take on the challenge to help close friend Cassie Mansfield, who has CHARGE syndrome – an extremely complex condition which occurs in one in 10,000 births worldwide.

The four-year-old, who has the mental age of a six-month-old baby, cannot walk or speak and suffers from a number of conditions including Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy, respiratory issues and severe eyesight problems.

Her parents, Marta and Steven Mansfield, are crowdfunding to make essential adaptations to their three-bedroom Liberton home so Cassie can enjoy a better quality of life.

The modifications include a through-floor lift, a ceiling hoist for the lounge, bathroom and Cassie’s bedroom, and a ramp to allow Cassie easier access to their garden.

The couple, who also have an eight-month-old daughter, Lorie, have already installed new, wider, patio doors to accommodate Cassie’s wheelchair, and the lift has been ordered. But they need to raise a £10,000 to make all the necessary modifications.

So far Benji, of Dunfermline, Fife, has raised more than £800 for the cause.

The Townhill Primary School pupil completed his 5km trek on Sunday, accompanied by his parents, Jess and Simon Leech, brother Charlie, three, and his grandmother Marian.

Proud mum Jess, 30, said: “We were a little apprehensive as Benji isn’t too good with heights. He gets nervous climbing the ladder to the slide in the playpark. He was a little bit nervous for the first 50 yards or so, but then his fear seemed to disappear – he was even lying on the ground and peering through the gaps.”

Common features of CHARGE Syndrome include deafness, vision loss, heart defects and balance problems, which can delay development.

Cassie, who attends Oaklands Special Needs school, weighed just 4lb 13oz when she was born by emergency C-section in November 2011.

Mum Marta, 33, recalled: “I couldn’t even hold Cassie when she was born, the first glimpse I had of her was when she was an incubator, attached to wires and tubes. It was a week later when I had my first cuddle with her. She was so tiny and fragile.”

The Mansfields cheered Benji across the finishing line in Fife.

Marta added: “Cassie has so many friends but she captured Benji’s heart from the moment they first met. He’s like a big brother to her, a wee gem. We’re absolutely stunned by the wonderful response to Benji’s selfless act and the amount he has raised.”

Donations can be made at crowdfunding.justgiving.com/benji-leech and www.gofundme.com/3e69qccc