Christmas day baby Jacob Andrews was born eight weeks early so his parents did not worry too much when he was immediately whisked away for special care.

But two days later his mum Sarah Gregory, 28, and dad Mark Andrews, 45, were told the news that he had achondroplasia – a form of dwarfism.

Ms Gregory of The Spinney, West Lavington, said: “I had never heard of the condition but when they explained it I wasn’t that worried if he was just going to be small. I was just glad that he was still with us.”

Jacob, now two, had to spend his first six weeks in hospital before he was allowed to go home but he never settled into an ordinary routine and had problems breathing and feeding.

When he was nearly four months old he became very ill and his mum called an ambulance. He was taken to Salisbury Hospital, where he had been born, to be stabilised and then to Southampton Hospital.

It would be another 32 weeks before Jacob was well enough to go home with his parents again.

Ms Gregory said: “We nearly lost him about four times over that Easter weekend and we were told he either had to be fitted with a tracheostomy to help his breathing or we had to say goodbye to him.

“Obviously we said yes. We had to learn very quickly a lot of medical procedures so we could get nearer to being able to bring him home.”

But first the family had to be found a ground-floor home that would be suitable for Jacob and eventually they were re-housed in a small bungalow originally built as a retirement home.

Not long after the family was put in touch with Devizes Opportunity Centre and it has proved a lifeline.

She said: “It is just wonderful to have other people to talk to who understand. The staff are fantastic and they are now learning how to fit his tracheostomy so we can get nearer to the time when I can leave him in their care without me having to be there.

“When he went there he couldn’t do anything at all but now he has come on leaps and bounds. He loves the sensory room and although he doesn’t really play with other children he loves watching them.”

Jacob has a wide range of problems that include not yet being able to sit up and only knowing a few words of language but his parents are optimistic about his future.

Ms Gregory said: “He seems to learn something new almost every time he goes to the centre. We hope he will be able to go to mainstream school in the future.”

His father, who is a civilian chef with the army, said: “The opportunity centre has been great for Sarah. It has let her meet people who understand.”

Why we launched appeal

The Gazette & Herald launched its Give Us A Chance appeal two weeks ago after the government axed a grant which means Devizes Opportunity Centre is facing a £10,000 cut in its funds this year.
The centre already has to raise £40,000 a year to make up the shortfall in paying for the vital services it provides for children with a wide range of disabilities.
The grant is paid through Wiltshire Council as part of its package of support but it decided it couldn’t make up the shortfall.
The centre supports families in Devizes, Marlbor-ough and Pewsey and its painstaking work with youngsters and their parents can often make enough of a difference that its children can take up a place in mainstream schools.