Brave boy born with rare gap in oesophagus has dream come true meeting astronaut Tim

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Riley Paxton had his first operation at just a few hours old and has had to battle multiple conditions throughout his young life but now when he struggles he’ll reflect back on the day his dream came true as he met astronaut Tim Peake

Riley was starstruck at his meeting with Tim
Riley was starstruck at his meeting with Tim

When Riley Paxton, a space-mad youngster who has spent most of his life in and out of hospital, met astronaut Tim Peake, it was a moment that was truly out of this world.

“Riley’s actual wish was go to the moon but when he realised we might struggle to make that happen the next best thing was to meet a real life astronaut,” says his mum Rachel.

“So when he met Tim Peake he was over the moon. With everything else he’s got to contend with Riley also suffers from anxiety and the whole experience has helped a lot with that.

“Even now when he’s struggling with his illness or feelings of anxiety he’ll reflect back on the day his dream came true to take his mind off the problems of the here and now.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more amazing experience.”

Riley and Ruby-Leigh in hospital
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Riley’s dream day came about with the help of Make-A-Wish UK, this year’s Mirror Christmas Appeal charity, an organisation mum-of-two Rachel, 27, says has offered a ray of hope to the family during some of their most difficult times.

“To have time away from what can feel like quite traumatic experiences makes a huge difference,” she says.

Riley, now seven, was born prematurely at 32 weeks in September 2014 weighing 3lbs 8oz.

Riley had an out of this world time with Tim Peake
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“Nothing was picked up during my pregnancy but once I was in labour Riley went into foetal distress and was delivered by emergency C-section,” recalls Rachel, from Newcastle.

“Virtually as soon as he was born his journey with one surgery after another began. He had his first operation at just a few hours old.”

Riley was diagnosed with TOF/OA, two rare conditions that meant he was born with a gap in his oesophagus. Surgery quickly after delivery meant mum Rachel and dad David, 32, couldn’t kiss him for the first two days of his life. It was four days before they had their first cuddle.

A first kiss for newborn Riley from mum Rachel
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“It was terrifying from the beginning,” recalls Rachel. “Even though he had surgery straight away, it was weeks before the gap in his oesophagus was repaired and all that time he was in intensive care.”

Riley was allowed home aged seven months old. By then the tot had also been diagnosed with a range of other health problems, including hemivertebra, a congenital condition which means parts of his spine are not properly developed.

He also has dextrocardia which means his heart is slightly to the left of where it should be and he has suffered from respiratory illnesses over the years.

Loving Rachel with Riley and Ruby-Leigh
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“He’s had a tough time,” says Rachel. “But he’s such a lovely boy.” The family’s challenges don’t stop there however, with Riley’s little sister Ruby-Leigh, five, also born with TOF/OA. Both youngsters were even hospitalised at the same time.

“Nothing was flagged during the pregnancy with Ruby-Leigh either,” says Rachel. “Over the years she’s had multiple surgeries on her oesophagus too.

“They both go to mainstream school but it’s difficult, and particularly at this time of year. Very often one of both of them will end up with a respiratory illness as they have tracheomalacia, or a floppy airway, so even a common cold can end up with a chest infection that could lead to pneumonia.”

By Jason Beattie

For the majority of families this Christmas will be a joyous time of presents, food and fun.

But for some children the festive season will be very different.

Across the country there are more than 63,000 young people who are critically ill.

Many will be spending what should be a special time of the year in hospital.

Others will have to have treatment, scans or blood tests.

With your help we can give them a Christmas that they will always remember.

This year’s Mirror Christmas Appeal is raising funds for Make-A-Wish UK that helps seriously ill young people make their dreams come true.

It could be they want to meet their hero or heroine or feed an animal at the zoo or travel to see Santa in Lapland.

The money raised could help Joshua, six, who has severe epilepsy, achieve his wish of a bedroom makeover or Summer, also six, who has acute leukaemia and dreams of a bouncy castle.

Each year Make-A-Wish helps hundreds of critically ill children achieve their lifetime’s ambition.

But to make a wish come true takes an army of volunteers, supporters and donors.

That’s why every penny you donate could make a difference.

Granting a wish can transform a child’s life. It gives them something to look forward to.

For others it provides a special memory which makes the treatment they need more bearable.

It can also help their parents who, despite doing everything they can for their sick child, feel it is not enough.

Jason Suckley, Make-A-Wish UK chief executive, said: “I met the family of a boy who was recovering from brain surgery.

“His grandmother told me how difficult it had been for her to watch her daughter struggle with the challenges of her son’s condition.

“But while they were enjoying his wish together, her daughter turned to her and said, ‘There is still magic in this world isn’t there mum?’ .

“That’s just one instance that illustrates how the power of a wish lies in sharing positive memories with loved ones.

“Every donation from Mirror readers will help us create those memories – bringing joy to ill children and their families during the darkest of times.”

Which is why the experience provided for Riley by Make-A-Wish in January 2020 made such an impact.

“I can’t put into words just what help they’ve given us,” says Rachel, who along with partner David is a full-time carer for her children.

“Even now we talk about meeting Tim. Make-A-Wish gave us tickets to see him on stage in October and he gave Riley a shout-out. We can’t thank Tim and the charity enough.”

Online: www.make-a-wish.org.uk/mirror

Text: To donate £5 text the word LIGHT to 70030. If you’d like to give £5 but do not want marketing communications, text LIGHT NO to 70030.

You can text more than once if you wish to donate more.

Post: Please post cheques payable to MAKE-A-WISH UK to Freepost address below:

Freepost Plus RUCS-LHTL-CJGU

Make-A-Wish Mirror Appeal

Make-A-Wish UK, Seventh Floor, Thames Tower, Station Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 1LX

Now hopeful that little Ruby-Leigh is also eligible for a wish, Rachel, who dreams of becoming a nurse one day, hopes there might be even more special memories around the corner.

“The wishes they grant make an impact far beyond the day they happen. They’re things families like ours truly treasure for a long time.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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