David Wheater, Josh Vela and Community Ambassador Tony Kelly were surprise guests at supporter Declan McKernan-Neale’s 13th birthday party on Thursday evening.
Declan, who is a season ticket holder at Macron Stadium, has been through a number of trials and tribulations in his short life so far, with the youngster having firstly been born ten weeks premature back in 2004, weighing just 3lb 14oz.
Inside the first year of his life, he developed a condition called hydrocephalus – known more commonly as water on the brain – and at just 15 months old, he underwent major surgery to insert a shunt to drain the fluid into his stomach.
His family then carried on with their lives, but as Declan developed, he walked on his tiptoes and developed limited vision in his right eye.
After numerous trips to hospital, he was eventually diagnosed with diaplegic cerebal palsy at the age of just two which affects the body from the hips down.
As a result of this, he had to wear splits on his legs at all times to keep his heels down and walk with a Zimmer frame to help with his balance.
Despite his physical ailments however, Declan went on to attend mainstream school but was later diagnosed as colour blind and is now partially blind in one eye, so much so that he has to wear specially designed glasses.
His condition meant though that he wasn’t able to walk long distances and despite the NHS providing him with a wheelchair, it wasn’t suitable to his situation and his mother Natalie skydived from 14,500 feet to raise £2,500 for a top of the range wheelchair with a BWFC crest on it.
Soon after this, Declan was put onto the waiting list for multi-level surgery which would consist of breaking bones and stretching his muscles on his thighs and legs in a bid to bring his heels onto the floor.
And after a five-hour operation and months of pain, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, Declan now only has to wear splits on the bottom of one of his legs.
Unfortunately, his troubles weren’t over though and two years ago, his shunt malfunctioned and he was rushed into Manchester Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery where his family were advised that he was lucky to be alive.
Despite all of this however, Declan is now a happy teenage boy with an undying love for his football team.
And upon hearing of his situation, Wheater and Vela turned up at his house in Atherton on the day of his thirteenth birthday with a squad signed card and personally signed shirt.
Speaking following the visit, Wheater said, “It was such a pleasure to come down and surprise Declan and it made it extra special with it being his birthday.
“When you hear about what he’s been through, it doesn’t bear thinking about how tough it must have been for him and his family and to see him now, he hasn’t let it get him down at all.”
Vela echoed his teammate’s sentiments, adding, “You could see just how much it meant to him for me and Wheats to come down and what a surprise it was too – you could tell he knew nothing about it!
“His knowledge of both of us and Bolton Wanderers is really impressive too, while his family made us all feel so welcome. It’s a visit I don’t think either of us will ever forget.”
Declan’s mother Natalie also spoke about the visit alongside his auntie Jodie, saying, “What an absolutely amazing night we all had – everybody is still buzzing!
“We cannot thank Bolton Wanderers and David and Josh enough for coming down – we were all really touched by how lovely they both were.
“To see Declan's face when the lads arrived will be a moment I will never forget. They made him feel so special and it was like we had known them for years.
“They were happy to have photos and sign anything the kids could find and even sang "Happy Birthday" which was amazing.
“I can’t thank them enough for doing that. Declan is such a special boy and to see him with the Bolton lads is something we will treasure for ever.
“David, Josh and Tony will always have a special place in my heart and are welcome for a brew any time! Declan’s dreams really have come true and he deserves it after everything he has been through.”