‘Four-legged walking frame’ transforms life for woman with severe rickets A woman who suffers from a severe, genetic form of rickets that has left her in a wheelchair has had her life transformed by her ‘four-legged walking frame.’ Kym Stretton, aged 56, has hyphophosphatemic rickets or osteoamalacia, which leaves her unable to absorb calcium and unresponsive to Vitamin D. As a result her bones are soft and weak and fracture easily and she is in constant pain. Kym has also developed severe osteoarthritis in her neck and spine, and needs a wheelchair to get out and about. Kym has had a long association with the national charity Support Dogs, which provides and trains assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities. Her five-year-old red Labrador retriever Marley is her fourth assistance dog, after the charity trained her pet dogs Zeta and Zoe, and provided and trained her third, Baxter. All four of her dogs have been life-changing for Kym, helping with everyday tasks such as loading and unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, helping her to dress and undress and being there to support her if she falls or gets into trouble. But it’s Marley’s ability to assist her up and down stairs that has marked him out as a little bit special. “Stairs are really hard for me,” explains Kym. “We live in a ground-floor flat but sometimes when I’m out they’re inevitable. Marley is my walking frame; he stabilises me, doesn’t rush me, and is so patient; he’s such a sweetheart. Of all my four dogs he’s the best on stairs.” Kym’s mother and grandmother both had hyphophosphatemic rickets, and Kym was diagnosed with the rare condition at the age of two. She had both her badly twisted legs broken and re-set at the age of eight, a procedure which was unsuccessful, and went into near kidney failure after being given too large a dose of Vitamin D two years later. She is now dependent on strong painkillers but says she never remembers a day in her life without pain. Kym was a trustee of Support Dogs for 12 years and chairman of trustees for six, and maintains strong links with the charity. “Twenty years ago my husband was going to finish work to look after me, but when I got my first support dog he went back to college and re-trained and worked for another 15 years, because my dogs looked after me,” she says. “Having an assistance dog has had such a massive impact on my life. Before I had a dog, I hadn’t left the house for over a year. I had no confidence and my family was worried about me. As soon as Zeta was trained to assist me, I had my life and my independence . “Support Dogs transformed my life, and I’d encourage others with conditions like mine or similar to think about applying for an assistance dog. They make an incredible difference, and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done.