An entire Lancashire community pulled together and reached across the world for one of their own – a young girl in need of a new leg.
Twelve-year-old Gabriella Benn, a former Forton primary school pupil with ambitions to become a paralympic athlete, was diagnosed with bone cancer in October 2013, shortly after she and her family left Lancashire for a new life in New Zealand.
Gabriella – known as Ella – had to have part of her leg amputated but now she can once again run on the beach, go to waterparks, trampoline and even ski after the kind villagers of Forton rallied together to raise funds.
The youngster amazed her family, friends and teachers by being determined to get back to sport of all sorts following her cancer treatment.
Plucky Ella even designed a special poster saying “I choose not to put dis in my ability.”
Ella had rotationplasty surgery which means her foot can now act like a knee joint.
The beach leg has made a massive differenceMum
But running on the beach was a challenge too far.
Her mum Sandi, a former intensive care nurse at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, said the new leg provided by the health service in New Zealand was fine for everyday walking, but not suited to all the kinds of sporting activity Ella relishes.
It was after learning of Ella’s condition that Forton villagers decided to do something to help, raising funds for a special prosthetic “beach/pool leg” which would enable her to run on the beach near her new home in Rolleston.
A special “Run a Leg for Gabriella” fun run and other fund-raisers in Forton raised £5,000 towards the cost of the beach leg and replacement limbs as she grows.
Sandi said: “The beach leg has made a massive difference. It means she doesn’t have to hop around the poolside and at waterparks. When we go to pools with slides she can walk up the stairs to the top instead of crawling.
“She can run around on the beach, go body-boarding and mess around in rockpools.”
Andrea Bookless, one of the Forton fund-raisers, said: “We are all delighted she is doing so well and that what we did made a difference.”
Sandi added: “Ella is growing fast, just had her 12th birthday. She’s very healthy, swimming three times a week with squad training.”
Ella has also started skiing again this winter, has been kayaking, sailing and water skiing and is now back mountain biking, with a 16km circuit no problem for her.
She is swimming in competitions against the able-bodied and recently won shot put and discus contests at school, going on to represent her school in inter school competitions.
Her mum said: “Ella constantly amazes us with her strength of character, not feeling sorry for herself, wanting to move on and get on with life now.”