Bladder operation frees Alex for active new life: Celia Hall reports on a campaign launched yesterday to ease a condition which afflicts millions

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The Independent Online
ALEX BECKETT, 11, has had 30 major and minor operations but these have been easy to bear compared to the misery of being a schoolboy forced to wear nappies.

Alex's life was circumscribed by his 'pads' until a final operation made him dry for the first time in his life. These days the school changing rooms hold no anxieties for him.

'I never really had teasing but I used to get embarrassed about it all. When I was walking the pads used to make a noise. People said 'he wears nappies', but they weren't nappies, really, they were pads. The operation totally changed my life,' said Alex, whose favourite sports are football and athletics, especially running in 1,500m races.

Alex, from Betws, near Ammanford, Dyfed, was born with his bladder half formed, open and exposed on his abdomen. Even when it was surgically closed - he had his first operation when he was seven months old - he was incontinent as he had no sphincter muscle to control his bladder.

'He was unable to stop the flow, so urine just dribbled out,' said his mother, Hilary. 'Until two years ago he was still in nappies, but the older he got the more difficult it became. His urine was getting stronger which affected the condition of his skin and there were more and more social problems.'

His bladder was reconstructed and he was given an artifical sphincter, but this was not completely satisfactory as he was still unable to empty his bladder completely.

Alex's life was transformed by an operation performed by Philip Ransley, paediatric urologist at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and St Peter's hospital, both in London.

The operation, named after a French surgeon, Paul Mitrofanoff, who invented it in 1980, connected Alex's reconstructed bladder to the outside, via a tube made from his appendix.

The tube is squashed closed when the bladder is full, keeping him dry. Mrs Beckett said: 'He always was an easy-going, happy child in spite of everything, but this has made him so much more confident and outgoing. The only thing he is not allowed to do is play contact sports like rugger. But I'm afraid he does play football.'

(Photograph omitted)