A brave Dumbarton schoolboy who overcame a rare form of meningitis, septicaemia and a stroke when he was just 11 months old has earned his first belt in kickboxing.
John Sutherland, seven, was left visually impaired with paralysis of his right side, hearing problems and language delay disorder after medics took five days to identify the signs of meningitis.
However he has refused to let that stand in his way, as he became a red belt at Alexandria Kickboxing Academy.
John’s mum, Amanda Cameron, told the Lennox of her joy in seeing her boy succeeding in the martial art - which he was inspired to take up by boxing superstar Tyson Fury.
She said: “I’m really proud of what he’s gone through.
“He turned seven in August but he’s only been involved in kickboxing for just over a year. And he missed a good chunk of that because of lockdown.
“He just couldn’t stop smiling after getting his first belt. I’m so proud of him.”
John’s belt represents an impressive achievement for any young kickboxer, however for John it marks something remarkable - after he spent almost six weeks in hospital recovering from a rare life-changing illness before his first birthday.
Amanda explained: “John fell ill within just a few hours.
“I rushed him up to the sick kids hospital which had only just opened. I spent hours in a waiting room with him, and in the end they sent me back home and told me he had a sickness bug.
“They told me that if he wasn’t better in 12 hours then I should bring him back. I got back to Dumbarton and when I opened the door to the car his eyes were rolling and his head was totally grey.
“I raced straight back up. It was about 4am and I said I wasn’t leaving until he had blood tests because I could tell there was something seriously wrong.
“They admitted him but it wasn’t until five days later that they found out he had Meningococcal Septicaemia.
“At the time he was also the only baby ever they had seen who had that - as well as Meningitis W, which is a teenage form rarely seen in babies.
“The doctor said that they weren’t looking out for the signs. They kept telling us he had scarlet fever and strep throat, which was why his neck was stiff.
“He was unresponsive for the five full days whilst he was in. He didn’t eat. He didn’t drink. He didn’t speak. Nothing.
“He wouldn’t wake at all.
“When they found out it was meningitis they changed his antibiotic. I went down to the café and when I came back up he was sitting watching cartoons and eating a bit of toast.
“I couldn’t believe it.”
After spending more than six weeks in hospital recovering, John was released. However his ordeal was far from over.
Amanda continued: “Soon after he came home I noticed he wasn’t moving his right side.
“They told me to bring him up straight away.
“They did a brain scan on him and the neurologist told me that he’d had a stroke the previous week due to the stress of the meningitis.
“The stroke left him with paralysis of his right side. He has severe visual impairments, he lost his hearing due to the meningitis, so he wears a wee hearing aid and glasses.
“He didn’t speak until he was five.”
Watching Tyson Fury inspired the youngster, who is a pupil at Renton Primary language unit, to get involved with combat sports, as he aims to become Dumbarton’s answer to The Gypsy King.
Amanda explained: “We’re in the travelling community so he watched Tyson Fury and kept asking if he could learn to be a boxer.
“I searched everywhere for a boxing club and couldn’t find any anywhere. Most of them won’t take people until they are over eight.
“But then I came across the Alexandria Kickboxing Academy, and I messaged them to tell them about John and his disabilities and they said of course he’d be welcome.”
And Amanda has no concerns about John taking part in a combat sport, as she paid tribute to AKA coaches Stewart Smillie and Lochlan Peddie-Temple.
She continued: “He wants to fight. But anyone with a brain injury isn’t allowed to compete in the physical fighting.
“But his coach has been brilliant at sorting other things for him.
“I’m really grateful to his coaches Stewart and Lochlan. They are always trying to help him.
“I never even thought about him trying to get belts. But it was Stewart who put him forward for his red belt - red is his favourite colour, so he was delighted with that.”
Stewart meanwhile admits he is full of admiration for John, and was keen to ensure he became a fully fledged part of the academy.
He told the Lennox: “Nothing stops John. Nothing holds him back.
“Obviously there are a few techniques he struggles with due to his loss of power. But when he’s in the club he’s part of the team.”
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