Belfast Telegraph

Anthony can play outside with brothers after Santa brings a very special bike

By JOANNE SWEENEY

Christmas wishes really do come true.

Just ask one special little boy who keeps defying the odds that life gave him.

For when two-year-old Anthony Kelly from Co Armagh grows up, he can truthfully say that Santa Claus answered his Christmas wish.

Yesterday the incredibly plucky youngster, who is paralysed from the chest down with T5 spina bifida, received the gift of mobility – in the form of a bespoke red bicycle.

The bicycle was a gift from the charity iCare, which was set up in 2009 by management and carers within the Home Independent Living business based in Milford, Armagh.

Now Anthony, the youngest of a family of four boys from Derrynoose in Keady, will be able to go out and play on his bike with his big brothers.

The specially adapted bicycle cost more than £600 and was handed over to Anthony and his family at Santa's Gatelodge in Milford by the main man himself – Father Christmas.

The popular Christmas gatelodge attraction helps raise money each year to grant iCare charity wishes to people mainly from the area.

It's estimated that £25,000-plus will be raised this year by the hundreds of children and parents that have visited the gatelodge, which had its last day yesterday.

Anthony's mother Martina was told by doctors when she was 22 weeks pregnant that Anthony was "non-viable".

"Not only had Anthony had severe spina bifida but he also had hydrocephalus," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I was told that I probably would go into labour early and he would only survive a few hours.

"But I ended up going to 39 weeks and Anthony was born after a Caesarean section."

One day later, her baby went through an operation to close the lesion in his spine caused by his condition, and also had a shunt put in.

"We were told that Anthony would be a very sick baby and wouldn't walk or talk," said Martina.

"But he never stops talking and we haven't given up on him walking, though he gets around now by pulling himself using his arms. He's a very active wee boy who's been a joy to us since the day he was born.

"He makes us want to get up every morning. But he found it difficult to play outside, and the bicycle will be brilliant for him."

Martina added: "It's so good to see local people like this working together to help local people. We are very thankful to everyone."

Mairead Mackle from iCare said that all the charity's volunteers were delighted to have helped Anthony and his family.

"Everyone here is a volunteer and we come together to do something really, really magical at Christmas."

Village people full of festive spirit

By Joanna Sweeney

The Co Armagh village of Milford is just Christmas-tastic!

For the last four years a huge community effort has been made to create a magical festive experience at Santa's Gatelodge.

More than 250 volunteers from the village come together to enact the full Christmas story with Santa, Mrs Claus, reindeer and lots of elves for two weeks at Milford Gate Lodge.

Families can ride on the Santa express train, visit Santa's house, see where Mrs Claus makes her mince pies and mulled wine, go to elf school and then sing Christmas songs with Santa around a tree.

There's nothing about staging a winter wonderland that these volunteers don't know about.

Many families agree, as the numbers enjoying Santa's Gate-lodge increase every year – with bookings from mid-September.

All the proceeds go towards funding the iCare charity, which was formed by management and carers from Homecare Independent Living, also Milford based.

Santa's Gatelodge closed yesterday but it's estimated that £25,000 will have been raised to fund wishes throughout next year.

Along with the presentation of the bicycle to Anthony Kelly, iCare raise funds to give to Co Armagh and national causes.

It is also developing a befriending service for the elderly in the community.

"Our iCare wishes are granted for small, practical help that can make a real difference to people and the grotto is our major fundraiser," said Mair-ead Mackle, of the charity iCare and managing director of Homecare Independent Living.

"It involves our carers, the Milford Community Development Association, pupils from all the local schools and really everyone here who loves Christmas."

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