TEENAGE twins Katie and Emma Sutcliffe want to be just like any other girls their age.
But confined to wheelchairs for much of the time, the girls find it hard to lead independent lives like their friends.
Katie and Emma have Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy, which causes stiffness and pain in their legs and means they rely on wheelchairs when they are out of the house.
Like most 15-year-old girls, Katie and Emma enjoy shopping, reading and going to the cinema with friends, but the one thing they want more than anything is to be able to walk unaided.
And their dreams could be answered with the help of pioneering treatment in America.
With the backing of the Guardian, the twins and their friends and family – mum Caroline, dad Wayne and 11-year-old brother Ciaran – are now trying to raise the £85,000 needed to pay for the girls to have the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) treatment at St Louis Hospital in Missouri.
The operation – developed specifically for those with the twins’ condition – would change their lives.
SDR involves cutting some of the sensory nerve fibres that come from the muscles and enter the spinal cord.
The complicated procedure reduces the tightness in the muscles, and after intensive physiotherapy and exercise the girls would have the chance to take their first independent steps.
Born prematurely at 27 weeks, Katie and Emma spent their first three months of their lives on life support machines in intensive care at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
They still weighed less than 5lb when they were allowed home to Scotforth.
Caroline, who works at Lancaster University, and firefighter Wayne were warned that the early birth could mean Katie suffered from cerebral palsy. But when the twins were 18 months old, their parents were given the devastating news that both girls had been diagnosed with the debilitating condition.
Now 15, the Our Lady’s Catholic College pupils hope the treatment will give them the freedom and independence they crave.
“I think it will help me physically but also socially,” Katie said. “People will accept me more if they can’t see my disability.
“People see the wheelchair and immediately recoil or have an overwhelming sense of pity.
“I want people to see me and not my wheelchair. We are restricted at the moment and we have so much of a dependency on others; if we want to go somewhere but someone can’t take us then we can’t go.
“Everyday tasks will become so much easier.”
Emma added: “I think it will give us a new lease of life.”.
Caroline, 48, said: “This condition is both physically and emotionally difficult for the girls.
“They are teenagers and simply want to be just that, but sadly their lives are not at all like those of their peers.
“The girls’ social activities are very limited, and this causes them much distress, as they just want to be like any other ‘normal’ teenager. After all these years, and never thinking the girls would ever be able to get any help for their condition, we were delighted when we found out about the SDR treatment as now there is hope.
“We sent off to the hospital for an assessment and they said the girls would be ideal candidates and would benefit greatly from the surgery.
“The surgery has been going on in America for about 20 years.
“We are not taking this lightly; this is life changing for all of us.
“It will improve Katie and Emma’s lives dramatically. They will always have a disability but this will enable them to function more normally.
“I never thought in our lifetime there would be anything that would benefit them.”
With the support of specialist charity Caudwell Children, the Twins Appeal is hosting a number of fundraising events to help fund the treatment.
And £10,000 has already been raised from events held.
Trudi Beswick from Caudwell Children said: “We really believe in the difference SDR treatment can make to a child’s life and want to help in any way we can to get Katie and Emma the treatment they need.”