A teenager who used to love playing football now struggles to walk and talk after being struck down with a rare condition which means his body can’t get rid of copper.
Eighteen months ago, Sam Fitzgerald was just like any other teenage boy who played football and went to school with his mates.
But when his mum Jackie Courtney started noticing a change in his behaviour, she had no idea how their world was about to be turned upside down.
Jackie said: “It was last year, probably March or April time, and Sam started to get a bit angry and aggressive, it was not normal.
“He was just a normal boy and then he got really aggressive.
“His speech started to deteriorate and when I asked him about it, he said it was just us that couldn’t understand him.”
It’s heartbreaking to see Sam from when I knew him two years ago to now.Mark Rooksby
It got so bad that she had to get help from the police.
She said: “He really lost his temper one evening and smashed his phone up and ran off.
“But before he ran off, I got hold of him and he was screaming in my face.
“I looked in his eyes and it wasn’t him.
“I rang the police and said I needed help, he’s out of control and I don’t know what to do.
“They brought him back and said he had been drinking.”
But Jackie knew it wasn’t that, something else was wrong.
Sam had been back and forth to the doctors, but they couldn’t work out what the problem was.
He then started having problems with his hands and writing, he was also getting cramp, and it started to affect his schoolwork.
They then found his toes had started to curl under and Jackie needed to know what was happening to her son.
She said: “I rang the school and I was in tears, I just said something is not right.”
Jackie got a letter from Huxlow Science College to take to the doctors and it was then that they were referred to Kettering General Hospital.
They got an appointment and the doctor picked up the problem straight away, saying it could be Wilson’s Disease.
Jackie said: “He was referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
“He had a liver biopsy and it was confirmed as Wilson’s Disease.”
The condition means part of Sam’s liver is missing, the part which gets rid of copper.
His mum said: “He’s got liver damage but it is more in the brain for him.
“He can’t swallow properly, he’s got a tube in his nose and he’s lost a lot of weight.
“It started with his right hand that was curled but his left hand has contracted now.”
But Jackie said her son, who is now 15, was being incredibly strong coping with the condition, which is genetic, and said: “He’s so strong, his strength is just amazing.
“He’s got a wicked sense of humour.”
Despite spending time in hospital, Sam is now at home and Orbit Housing is working with East Northamptonshire Council to make alterations to their home in Irthlingborough so Sam can have a bedroom downstairs.
It’s hoped the changes, which will include a bath downstairs, will be completed by December.
Jackie said: “Sam will be able to come and go as he pleases.
“At the moment he’s got a doorbell in his room and rings the bell if he needs something.
“These changes will mean a lot to him.”
Support for Sam
Sam’s former football coach Mark Rooksby felt he had to do something to help after hearing about Sam’s condition.
He said: “I just felt that I should do something.
“It’s heartbreaking to see Sam from when I knew him two years ago to now.
“We are going to do everything we can to make it easier for Sam and for Jackie.
“He would give everything on the football pitch.”
Mark has organised a fundraiser at Rushden Athletic Club from 7pm on Saturday, August 22.
Entertainment will include local band 6th Sense performing, as well as vocalist Emma Robbins and a disco by Joe Laughton. Tickets are £5 for adults and £2 for under-12s.
Money raised will go towards putting jets into Sam’s new bath to help give him some comfort from the pain. But Mark is not the only person to show his support.
Jackie said Sam’s school, Huxlow Science College, had been amazing, helping him with English and maths classes each week, and one lady rang up to offer them a food parcel.
The Make A Wish charity also made a dream come true for Sam when they took him and brother Alex to the FA Cup final in May to see their beloved Arsenal win.
Jackie said she had also had lots of support from friends on Facebook.