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Little Rea of sunshine: Help fund a new dawn for Stortford rugby winger Jimmy's daughter Aurora

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Jimmy Rea with daughters Aurora (4), Astara (10 months) and Ariella (8) Pic: Vikki Lince
Jimmy Rea with daughters Aurora (4), Astara (10 months) and Ariella (8) Pic: Vikki Lince

A little girl with an infectious smile has inspired an army of fundraisers to help send her to a specialist therapy centre in the United States.

Aurora with big sister Ariella. Pic: Vikki Lince
Aurora with big sister Ariella. Pic: Vikki Lince

True to her name, which is the Latin for ‘dawn’, four-year-old Aurora Rea’s beaming smile and sunny personality light up the lives of everyone she meets – and has inspired 37 dedicated supporters to embark on a 70-mile bike ride this Friday and Saturday (Oct 5 and 6) to help raise £10,000 towards her treatment.

The money generated will help cover the costs of sending Aurora, the middle daughter of Bishop’s Stortford rugby club winger James Rea and his wife Leann, both 32, to the world-renowned NAPA (Neurological and Physical Abilitation) Center in Boston, where she will undergo three weeks of intensive physio, occupational and speech and language therapy.

“The first thing people always notice about Aurora is her smile – she’s always smiling,” said Leann. “She’s got the biggest personality for a child that is non-verbal and is such a happy little soul.”

Having endured a raft of tests in her short life, Aurora’s underlying condition is yet to be officially diagnosed but falls under the umbrella of global development delay and presents itself like cerebral palsy.

Reas of sunshine: Ariella, Aurora and Astara Rea Pic: Vikki Lince
Reas of sunshine: Ariella, Aurora and Astara Rea Pic: Vikki Lince

A recent MRI scan revealed that she has a smaller-than-average cerebellum, the part of the brain that regulates motor movements and co-ordinates voluntary movements such as posture, balance, co-ordination and speech.

But despite the challenges she faces on a daily basis, Leann said their little girl does everything with a smile, and although she does not yet speak she has found her own way of communicating with her sisters Ariella, eight, and 10-month-old Astara.

“Since we’ve had Astara she’s developed her own little way of communicating with her little sister,” she explained.

“It’s more of a controlled babbling and at first we thought it was coincidence, but it’s carried on so we know for sure she’s trying to communicate with her. The bond between all three girls is amazing.”

Dad Jimmy with daughter Aurora (4) Pic: Vikki Lince
Dad Jimmy with daughter Aurora (4) Pic: Vikki Lince

The family first became concerned about Aurora’s development when she was about eight months old after they noticed she did not seem to be reaching the same milestones as other babies of a similar age.

“I had a traumatic delivery with Aurora but it didn’t become apparent that something might be wrong until she was about six to eight months old when we noticed she couldn’t sit up,” said Leann.

“When they’re so little, everyone tells you not to compare, that all babies are different, so at first we weren’t overly concerned.”

Aurora was eventually referred to a community pediatrician when she was one and is now under both Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge and Great Ormond Street Hospital in London as well as having weekly session at Kids Physio Works in Witham.

Jimmy with daughters Ariella (8), Aurora (4) and Astara (10mths). Pic: Vikki Lince
Jimmy with daughters Ariella (8), Aurora (4) and Astara (10mths). Pic: Vikki Lince

The family will travel to the USA in May next year for Aurora to complete a bespoke course of treatment at the NAPA Center, which specialises in individualised programmes to address each child’s needs.

Leann said: “Every single story we’ve read about the NAPA Center has been extremely positive.

“It will be intense and it will be a lot for her little body, but it’s the only way Aurora can build up the strength and stamina for her to improve.

“Yes, we do sometimes question whether we’re doing too much, but the team at Great Ormond Street have reassured us that we’re doing exactly what Aurora needs and to keep going. She’s a tough little cookie and takes it all in her stride.”

Leann said that without the physiotherapy Aurora has had so far, she would not be where she is today. Earlier this month she joined the reception class at Bentfield Primary in Stansted and is thriving.

“We were open-minded about school and where to send her but Bentfield have been absolutely amazing – they’re so experienced with special needs and she loves it,” she said.

“As a mainstream school, our initial worry was how are they going to teach her because she can’t really learn like the others? But they take the topic and break it down to the most basic elements so she’s learning along with the class but in her own way that’s appropriate for her, which I think is brilliant.

“The other children love her too. She’s just Aurora to them, she’s part of the class and they accept her for who she is.”

This weekend’s ‘Smiles for Miles’ cycle challenge has been organised by the rugby club’s business development manager, Julie North, and will see the 37 bikers cycle from the Silver Leys club to Chinnor Rugby Club – Stortford’s opponents in their National League 1 fixture on Saturday – in Thame, Oxfordshire.

The Reas, who live on the family farm in Little Canfield, say they will forever be grateful to all those who have rallied round them to ensure Aurora gets the best possible opportunities to help her progress.

“We’re just so lucky with the network of people we have around us,” said Leann. “Most days we feel like we just muddle through, but it’s the support we get from friends and family that keeps us going.

“The support has been overwhelming and we really cannot thank people enough for what they do for us. We do tell Aurora about all these amazing people and I think she knows and understands more than she can express.

“As a family, we take each day as it comes and will continue what we’re doing to give Aurora the best opportunities we can.

“I remember someone saying to me when she was only a few months old that everything will be in Aurora’s time, and that is so true.”

You can support the Smiles for Miles cyclists by making a donation via www.justgiving.com/fundraising/smiles4milesteamaurora.

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