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Burley man defies the odds to celebrate his 18th birthday
The proud family of a former Ilkley Grammar School pupil who were told he would be lucky to make it into his teenage years are preparing to celebrate his 18th birthday on Monday.
Matthew Downs, of Burley-in-Wharfedale, was just five-years-old when he was diagnosed with the genetic disorder Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) which means he has an absence of the protein dystrophin which keeps muscle cells intact.
The condition robbed him of the ability to walk at the age of nine and he has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
Despite his deteriorating condition Matthew did well at school and at the age of 16 went to study travel and tourism at Keighley College and is now a computer whizz kid.
His grandmother Jean Osborne, 64, of Otley, said: “When he was originally diagnosed he was told that he would probably only live to his mid to late teens. We are proud that he has got to 18.
“Time is precious to us now and every added day is a bonus.”
Over the years Matthew has inspired people to raise thousands of pounds for charities close to his heart, such as Martin House Hospice, where he receives respite care.
A mystery benefactor donated £2,000 to help buy a hoist for Ilkley Grammar School, when Matthew was a pupil there, to enable him to go swimming, and his family has also raised funds for the charity the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
Mrs Osborne said: “Around four years ago Matthew had two metal rods in his back to help him sit up straight but gradually as he has got bigger he has started to lean again. He can’t move his head and he gets bad chest infections. Even chewing takes him a long time.
“You just wish some times you could swap places with him.”
To celebrate the milestone, the family, which includes his mum Lesley and brother nine-year-old Ciaran and sister, ten-year-old Megan, are planning a family party at Burley-in-Wharfedale Social Club on March 2.
Mrs Osborne hopes to organise other treats for Matthew, who is an avid Leeds Rhinos fan, such a ride in Hummer and a visit by some Leeds Rhino players.
She also hopes to raise enough money from the sale of her house to take Matthew on a dream family holiday to Florida.
“Matthew has spent half his life in a wheelchair but he was a happy child and he is now a typical 18-year-old and we are so proud of him,” she added.