THE family of a little boy facing life in a wheelchair are racing against time to raise money for 'life-changing' surgery.

At just four-years-old Thomas Balmer has limited movement in his legs due to cerebral palsy, a neurological condition diagnosed when he was a toddler.

His parents fear he may be wheelchair-bound by the time he is a teenager unless they can pay for a £45,000 operation that could gift him with the ability to walk, dance and chase after his twin brother Dylan.

Mum Nicci Brassey, who lives with her sons and their dad Brian Balmer in Florence Park, Oxford, said: "We want to know we've done everything we can to give him the best chances in life. As heart-wrenching as it is for a child to undergo complex surgery, it's the best chance for him to have that independence and be free from pain. We are daring to hope."

Thomas and Dylan proved they were fighters from the first day of their life, after being born 10 weeks premature and weighing less than 3lbs each.

They were nursed to normal size but Thomas continued to struggle with muscle stiffness and stunted growth due to his condition, which can be caused by premature birth.

For exactly a year the family, who live in Campbell Road, have relied on a close-knit network of friends to help fundraise £75,000 for surgery plus three years of subsequent physiotherapy.

Their organisation Help Thomas 2 Dance, registered with charity status through Tree of Hope, has raised £27,000 since last March.

Business research director Mr Balmer said: "Having never had to reach out to people before, it's humbling to see how many friends have held events to raise money."

Miss Brassey, a part-time teacher at Cheney School, added: "Support has been overwhelming. But there is only so much we can ask our network to do to support us - this is a call for action. We need help to be able to give this to our son."

The couple have started to spread word of their cause, with Mr Balmer addressing crowds during half time at an Oxford United match earlier this month.

Miss Brassey came up with the charity's name when she was dancing around their kitchen holding Thomas, who attends nursery at Cowley's Comper Foundation Stage School, with brother Dylan.

The 43-year-old said: "I was rocking out to Can't Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, I love the lyrics. I love to dance and it's sad to think that Thomas might not be able to touch that.

"When they were first born the only thing that would calm them down was playing Taylor Swift, that's where the dancing started. Thomas dances in his walker while Dylan rocks it out. I want Thomas to be able to feel that freedom in his body."

Thomas can only take a few steps unaided and relies on a walking frame to support him, but puts in tireless effort at Dorchester physiotherapy centre Footsteps Foundation.

An MRI scan revealed his condition when he was two-years-old, triggering his parents to research treatments online.

Miss Brassey discovered surgery called selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), offered at five hospitals in the UK, but was only available on the NHS as part of a three-year trial involving 140 children.

She said: "The trial stopped this time last year and and it was a knee-jerk reaction of 'we have got to do something'.

"The surgery could be life-changing. We have every reason to think that with this he'll be able to walk - without it there is no way; he'd be wheelchair bound by the time he is a teenager.

"We want to do this before it starts damaging his self esteem and he retreats into himself - the timing is so important, before he starts school."

One of Thomas' physiotherapists at the centre, Andrea Mason, said: "There are many children at the centre who have had the surgery. It definitely helps, [but] obviously each child is different and each surgery is different. It's a major help to maintain good alignment as they grow.

"It's very important to have intensive physiotherapy afterwards to relearn correct patterns of movement and maintain a range of motion in the joints."

The five-hour operation involves opening the spinal canal and dividing nerve roots, removing the spasticity (muscle tightness) in his legs.

Campaigners have previously called for the NHS to make the operation available freely for suitable patients with cerebral palsy, which affects around 1 in 400 children in the UK.

Thomas is being considered for surgery at Bristol Children's Hospital and is set to have a full assessment in June.

If deemed a suitable candidate as expected, he could have his operation by August.