The eight year-old girl who battled adversity to become a model – and taught her own father the true meaning of courage
- Daisy Demetre, eight, is a double amputee born with both her calf bones missing
- Inspiring girl has never let having two missing limbs deter her from aiming high
- She has secured coveted modelling contract with high street chain River Island
Of Alex and Claire Demetre’s four children, Daisy, the youngest, has always been the most energetic.
The day we meet she gives an impromptu gym performance, turning cartwheels, executing a faultless headstand and leaping, with almost balletic poise, to land in the splits.
‘Often I’ll say: “Can’t you just sit down for five minutes?”’ laughs Claire. ‘She runs rings round us. When she was six months old she had a bouncy chair fixed on the door frame and she’d swing round and round in it, and hang upside down like a little bat.
‘She’d do such crazy, quirky things. Now she goes to the gym and swings along the monkey bars. She has amazing upper-body strength.’
Daisy is remarkable by any eight-year-old’s standards. But her achievements and energy are all the more extraordinary because she is a double amputee who was born with both her fibulas (calf bones) missing.
Double amputee Daisy Demetre, who was born with both her calf bones missing, has just landed a coveted modelling contract with high street chain River Island
Her proud father Alex, 35, says: ‘She has such drive and determination and she’s also very stubborn. She’s a bubbly, funny character. She loves her feminine dresses, but she’s also a little demon in the gym and will tackle any physical challenge’
Daisy, who has a halo of white-blonde hair, an angelic face and an air of barely suppressed mischief, has never let the encumbrance of her two missing limbs deter her from aiming high.
And now she has secured a coveted modelling contract with the high street chain River Island, while other household name brands are queuing up to sign her.
Bouncing on her prosthetic blades — tiny versions of the sort worn by Paralympians, which she calls ‘springs’ — she possesses a natural grace and ease in front of the camera. A year ago her first assignment was as a junior model in London Fashion Week. ‘I didn’t feel nervous or scared,’ she says.
Neither is she self-conscious about her artificial limbs. ‘I like having my legs because they make me special,’ she smiles. ‘I can do everything my friends can do. I love PE. I can jump over little beams and my springs make me run fast. I can’t do a back flip yet but I’m going to learn.’
Her proud father Alex, 35, says: ‘She has such drive and determination and she’s also very stubborn. She’s a bubbly, funny character. She loves her feminine dresses, but she’s also a little demon in the gym and will tackle any physical challenge.’
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It is Alex who chaperones Daisy to modelling assignments — fitting them in round his job as a water maintenance engineer — while wife Claire, 36, stays at the family home in Birmingham, looking after their other children Morgam, 17, Charlie, 12, and Ella, ten. He calls his youngest child ‘inspirational’, explaining that when she was born with fibular hemimelia — a congenital condition that occurs in just one in 40,000 births in one leg, but is even more uncommon in both — it hit him hard.
‘I just couldn’t see a future for her,’ he admits. ‘I was worried about whether she’d be able to walk, about how people would react to her. Would she be bullied? Would she ever have a boyfriend, get married, lead an independent life?
‘Of course, now we know she’ll lead a completely full life. But at the time, all these thoughts were flashing through my mind. There was no role model, no one with the condition we could talk to.’
He admits, too, that he escaped from his concerns about his youngest child by drinking and gambling, racking up thousands of pounds in debt, until he came to his senses.
Then one day he looked at his little girl, saw the fortitude and cheerfulness with which she was tackling her disability, and decided to change.
‘It was as if a switch had been flipped,’ says Alex, who is now teetotal. ‘I was engrossed in gambling and drinking because it took my mind off Daisy’s problems. It was escapism; a respite.
‘But then Daisy became my motivation to stop. I woke up one day and thought: “What am I doing?” I’d been watching her playing, starting to walk, and I thought: “If she can overcome all her problems and face adversity with such a big smile on her face, then so can I.’
And, four years ago, he did.
Bouncing on her prosthetic blades — tiny versions of the sort worn by Paralympians, which she calls ‘springs’ — she possesses a natural grace and ease in front of the camera
Alex and Claire recall the profound shock they felt when they were first told that Daisy was missing the lower part of both her legs.
‘I went for a routine 20-week scan and they said they couldn’t see part of the baby’s legs, but it didn’t seem an important issue,’ says Claire. ‘I assumed they just weren’t visible on the monitor. But I was told to come back for another scan the next day. It was then that they said: “Your baby has no legs.” I remember crying, and phoning and telling everyone, but not knowing what the future held.’
Alex recalls: ‘Claire was distraught. She called me at work in tears. She had to go to a specialist the next day and he said: “You’ll be looking at surgery. Without it, your child won’t be able to do much at all.” The outlook didn’t seem good.
‘He said: “She won’t lead a full life” — and looking back now I realise the shock affected me massively. I became depressed.
‘And of course, irrationally, you blame yourselves. You think, what could we have done differently? Is it our fault? But the condition isn’t genetic. And we couldn’t have done anything. It was just bad luck.’
Daisy was born by Caesarean on July 28, 2010. Her parents’ love for their daughter was clouded by profound sadness.
Claire remembers: ‘Daisy had one short leg that looked like a chicken drumstick with no foot on it at all. The other leg — which also stopped at the knee — had a floppy club foot at the end of it.
‘I held her in my lap and started crying. She was my fourth baby but I thought: “I don’t know what to do. How do I change her nappy?” None of her Babygros fitted her. She held her little legs like frog’s legs. I thought: “Will she ever walk? Will she bounce on a trampoline?” I thought about her future and it seemed bleak. And, like Alex, I asked myself what we’d done wrong.’
There were more hurdles to surmount. On the advice of their specialist, when Daisy was 18 months old, Alex and Claire decided she should have what remained of her lower legs amputated.
An eight-hour operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital ensued, during which surgeons tried in vain to save her right knee. She was left with two stumps: the right one ending just above the knee; the left just below.
‘I like having my legs because they make me special,’ she smiles. ‘I can do everything my friends can do. I love PE. I can jump over little beams and my springs make me run fast’
After a week she was discharged, but complications developed.
‘Daisy was screaming in pain,’ Alex recalls. ‘And after three or four days she went back into hospital because she had an infection.
‘She had to have another procedure to clean the wound and was in hospital for a further week.’
Within six months — when she was two years old — she was fitted with her first pair of prosthetic legs. Initially she did not take to them.
‘The plastic legs were heavy and it was like tying weights to her body,’ Alex recalls. ‘Her stumps would get very sore when she put them on. They would split and crack, and she developed eczema.
‘She didn’t progress well and we were in a very dark place. I remember reaching a low ebb, sitting with a can of beer in my hand one evening, crying.
‘I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was on the verge of alcoholism. I used to have a drink once a week after work with friends, but I’d stopped going out and was drinking six cans a night at home after the kids were in bed, just so I could obliterate all my worries.
‘It’s hard to explain what I was thinking, but I wanted to escape. And I started gambling online.
‘I’d bet on anything — I once bet on whether it would rain the next day — and one day I won £20,000. But within four days I’d lost it all, plus another £5,000.
‘I was still doing my job, and functioning as a parent, taking the children on outings, helping Claire look after them. But at night I was gambling and it became very difficult to stop.’
Claire had been unaware of the problem until one day Alex admitted he had gambled away an entire week’s pay and there was no money for groceries. She then took control of the family finances.
‘I was scared more than anything,’ she recalls. ‘But my parents stepped in with a loan, which we paid back in dribs and drabs.’
Alex, consumed with shame, resolved he would never gamble or drink again. He has kept his promise. And his motivation was Daisy.
‘She’d just turned four years old and she’d started to master walking on her prosthetic legs.
‘She’d been growing in strength and confidence. She was getting control of her core muscles and learning balance — she had all this to contend with before she could even take her first steps — and she’d got to the point where she’d started to put one foot in front of another.
He calls his youngest child ‘inspirational’, explaining that when she was born with fibular hemimelia it hit him hard, and he turned to gambling and drinking
‘Once she’d found her feet, suddenly she was off. Soon she started riding her scooter. Then she was turning cartwheels and standing on her head. And she did it all with such a huge smile on her face.
‘I looked at her and thought: “If you can achieve so much against all the odds, and still be cheerful, then I have no reason at all to be depressed.” I stopped gambling and drinking that day.’
And then one morning, just less than a year ago — after he’d worked a night shift and was watching breakfast TV — Alex saw a feature about an agency, Zebedee Management, which specialises in disabled models. He thought about Daisy, with her innate grace and photogenic face, and pictured her becoming a role model for other amputees. When she came home from school he asked her if she fancied giving modelling a try. ‘And she said: “Go on, then,” ’ he recalls.
After a casting session in London, she was accepted on to the agency’s books. Now jobs are flooding in, and Daisy and her dad — an unassailable double act — are bonded in their mission to inspire other disabled children to reach for the stars.
A morning spent with them is uplifting. They joke and banter. Daisy, bouncing on her sprung feet, turns somersaults. A natural in front of the camera, she summons her Dad to join her.
‘Father! Get your blusher on!’ she calls as a make-up artist wields a brush to apply powder to his forehead.
Daisy (full name Daisy-May, although she’s only called by both her names if she’s in trouble, says her mum) attends the same school as her sister Ella, where her friends treat her with kindness but no special allowances are made for her disability.
Claire recalls: ‘When she first started school I’d walk with her into the classroom until her teacher said: “Daisy can walk in on her own. She’s quite capable.” And, of course, she was.
‘I don’t molly-coddle her now. If she falls over I say: “Get up. You’ll be fine.” ’
And Daisy palpably is. Her Instagram account — she currently has 3,500 followers — shows her lifting weights at the gym (she now has a personal trainer), doing press-ups and climbing steps in an adventure playground. She dresses and puts her prosthetic legs on unaided.
‘Since she started modelling, her teacher says her confidence has grown,’ observes Alex. ‘But she’s modest about it. She doesn’t tell her friends. She still gets on with her homework.’
‘My favourite subject is maths,’ confides Daisy, who also loves glitter, sparkly blue dresses, PE, the film Despicable Me and broccoli.
Alex and Claire hope she’ll continue with her modelling, and one day go to university. They have high expectations for her.
They know, too, that all the things they feared she’d never do — like getting married, living independently and having children — are, of course, entirely within her reach.
‘But what we hope for most is that she’ll continue to strive and achieve, and most of all, continue to be happy,’ says Claire.
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