A boy who was born weighing less than 2lbs and underwent a liver transplant aged just seven is about to play tennis for his country – thanks to a local children’s charity.
Inspirational Joseph Hunsley, now 13, underwent the surgery after suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and renal dysplasia, and will compete at the World Transplant Games in Malaga next week.
Smile For Life Children’s Charity, who look to change the lives of disabled and disadvantaged young people across the north-east, have helped fund his entrance to the tournament after being contacted by Joseph’s mum, Lynn.
Lynn, from High Heaton, said: “I am so excited for Joseph. It means so much to him that he is going to be able to compete in such a prestigious tournament.
“He has worked so hard – I am sure his determination, spirit and love of the game will see him through.
“It is amazing to see how far he’s come. To think of everything he has been through and then to see him out on court doing what he does makes me very proud. I have to thank Smile For Life for helping us make this happen.
“I was told there were charities in the region who help children to do things like this, to follow their dreams.
“When I got in contact with Smile For Life we just wanted any kind of help at all because competitors have to be fully funded, so we were overwhelmed when Smile were able to contribute so much. We are so grateful.”
Joseph, who met favourite player Rafael Nadal in 2015, has still suffered serious health problems since his 2011 transplant, and has had to spend prolonged periods in hospital.
Despite recent illness, left-handed Joseph has been working hard at Northumberland Club, Jesmond, with coach Jimmy Nelson ahead of the trip of his life.
Joseph, who goes to St Mary’s RC Comprehensive in Benton, said: “I feel like I can do anything when I am on the tennis court. I feel like nothing can stop me. Playing tennis is the thing I enjoy doing most.
“I have been working really hard to make sure I am ready for the tournament. This week I have practiced pretty much every day.
“Jimmy has helped me so much to prepare me for the Games. It will be a dream come true to go and do it. I can’t wait and I think I can come back with a gold.”
Coach Jimmy, himself a former US Open Junior Doubles champion, added: “He is so gutsy and tries so hard whenever he has a racquet in his hand. What he has been through is just crazy, but when he steps out on court he is transformed.
“A few weeks ago he was unwell and it looked like he might not be able to travel, so I am so pleased he will be. The most important thing for him is to just enjoy the experience.”
The games, which last from Monday 26th June until Saturday 1st July, come almost six years to the day since Joseph underwent his life-saving liver transplant surgery.
Smile For Life chief executive Paula Gascoigne was delighted the charity was able to help Joseph to achieve his dream of competing at the Games.
She said: “When we saw his story we knew he was a very special boy. Having to overcome so may huge obstacles in his young life to go on to achieve something like playing tennis for his country is just phenomenal. We could never have not helped him in some way.
“That’s what we are all about – helping give young people fantastic opportunities and enabling them to live a full and happy life. We are so happy that we have helped a young boy achieve his dream of representing Great Britain.”
For more information on Smile For Life Children’s Charity, head to www.smileforlife.org.uk or search @SmileforlifeNE on social media.