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Will walks tall - 01/03/2003

Will walks tall
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Little William Hardy is back on his feet and walking tall today after getting his life-changing new legs. Now the five year old, who lost both legs to meningitis, can run, jump and play football with his friends - things he could only dream of until now. Newcastle United star Robbie Elliott joined the youngster for a kick-about in the garden of the family's home in Jesmond, Newcastle, as proud parents Jeremy and Hilary looked on.

Through the generosity of Chronicle readers, our campaign, Help Will walk Tall, raised an incredible £17,000 towards buying the latest prosthetics. A further £36,000 was raised at an online football memorabilia auction and charity ball. Today, Will's parents sent a big thank-you to the hundreds of readers who sent cash, cheques and messages of support. Teacher Hilary, 42, said: "We want to thank everybody who has given to the fund. We're so grateful for all the money and help we've received over the last few months. "We hope people will look at Will today and realise what a difference their support has made to his life."

The boy lost both legs and an arm after contracting meningitis two years ago. He learned to walk on his NHS artificial legs, but without the latest technology in false limbs he would never have been able to run, swim or play football with his friends. The Hardy's of Holly Avenue, had been raising money to put in a trust fund for Will since he came out of hospital, but fell short of the £20,000 target. But just hours after their story hit the news-stands Chronicle readers dug deep for the family - and the money began to pour in. Scores of you rang us to donate money over the phone and every mailbag delivered to the newsroom brought increasing hope to the Hardys. Within weeks, the family had enough cash to buy the pair of prosthetics and had taken Will to the world-class Dorset orthopaedic clinic where North East model Heather Mills had a false leg made after she lost a limb in a motorbike accident.

Watching little Will confidently kick a ball around his garden, Hilary added: "It's made a big difference. He is much faster and is getting better at using them every day. "It's taken him a few weeks to get used to them but now there's no stopping him. "He can wear them for longer, which means he can spend a whole day at school without having to take them off. "The difference is these have been specifically shaped to Will's requirements, rather than the off-the-peg versions the NHS provides. We feel now we're doing the very best for him - and that feels good. "As he gets older he's going to become more aware of things he can't do and we want to make life as normal for him as it can be. "It seems like the light at the end of the tunnel for us. "We're finally seeing the results of all the hard work everyone has put in to helping him. It's wonderful."

Will started school in the reception class at Jesmond Primary last September. The Dorset orthopaedic clinic will also be making the youngster a new arm later this year. The Chronicle's appeal tugged hundreds of heart strings accross the North East including Newcastle United full-back Robbie Elliott, who invited Will to the Magpies' training ground to meet the Toon players. The pair formed a firm friendship and Robbie, who has thrown himself into helping to raise money for Will, said: "He's always been a happy little fellow and that hasn't changed. "But it's amazing to see how much impact his new legs are having on him. "He's much more confident and more mobile. "I got involved when Hilary and Jeremy wrote to the club for support, and, as I have kids of my own, his story really touched me."

Will, who has a 16-month-old brother Alex, was diagnosed with meningitis C in December 1999. His life hung in the balance for 19 days in intensive care at Newcastle General Hospital. His 37-year-old father said: "They knew in the first 24 hours that William was going to lose limbs. Because the blood is so busy fighting the meningitis, it doesn't go to the limbs, and that's why they had to be amputated." Alan Shearer, Shay Given and Kieron Dyer donated shirts and gloves to an online aution for Will, raising thousands of pounds for the cause. Washington-born Heather Mills McCartney, who threw off the devastation of losing part of her own left leg to pursue a successful modelling career, also backed our campaign. She rang the Hardys to offer her support. Family friends Joanne Appleton and Katie Elliott also worked tirelessly at raising cash for Will and presented the family with a cheque for £36,000 yesterday. Katie said: "A lot of people have been brilliant. Robbie lent his face to our campaign, and that helped a lot with raising money."

William will need regular replacements for his new legs as he grows up.

To donate money, send a cheque payable to The William Hardy Trust Fund and send it to Sarah Knapton at the Evening Chronicle, Groat Market, Newcastle, NE1 1ED or e-mail

Newcastle Evening Chronicle

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