Meet The 18-Year-Old Who Defied Doctors' Expectations To Become A Professional Footballer
An 18-year old who was told he may never walk again has defied doctors' expectations by making his professional debut.
At the age of five, youngster Declan Thompson was diagnosed with Perthes disease, an extremely rare childhood condition that affects the hips.
He had to have a number of surgeries and was wheelchair-bound for 18 months. His parents were told by doctors that he may never be able to walk again, never mind play football.
On Saturday, he realised his dream of becoming a professional footballer when he came on as a second half substitute for his beloved Sheffield Wednesday in their 2-0 FA Cup third round win over Exeter City.
It's an achievement that might have seemed impossible all those years back when he defiantly tried to get involved in playing football while on a zimmer frame.
"Coming onto the pitch it was quite emotional and I thought to myself I've got to kick on now and nail a spot in the first-team," he told SPORTbible.
"I never gave up. Playing football was the one thing that made me happy when I was younger.
"It's been a tough one. I've had injuries and rejections but it's always made me a bigger and better person.
"I've always had the mindset that being told 'No' is not the end of the world.
"Now I'm an ambassador for a charity called 'Steps' and I'm trying to give back to the young girls and boys that are struggling.
"I want to show them that anything is possible. You can't have the mindset where you think you can't become something when you're told 'No.'
Declan was 11 when he was discharged and able to partake in everyday activities such as running, biking and playing with his friends.
His journey to this point is nothing short of remarkable. He is in his second spell with Wednesday, the first ending at 14 when he had a growth spurt that brought his final problems with his hip and saw him lose a bit of coordination.
Not enjoying it, he left so he could play football with his friends instead.
"I reflect it on quite a bit," Declan says of his path to get to this point.
"I remember being in my hospital bed having my pins taken out and I was in agony. That's the worst pain I've ever been in.
"Being in a wheelchair around my friends didn't really affect me because they were quite supportive and would push me around I my arms got tired.
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"They'd always involve me in things. The thing that hurt me the most when I was younger was when I went to a Christmas light display.
"I saw people looking at me and laughing and that really got to me. Seeing my friends kicking a football, that made me want to join in.
"It wasn't about becoming a professional at that point, it was having my life back."
Declan has received messages from all around the world, with even Sheffield United fans congratulating him after being touched his inspiring his story.
A video of his dad, former Boston United player Lee, tearing up as he proudly watched his son making his first-team bow, promptly went viral.
Declan watched it afterwards on the team coach and he too had to try and control his emotions.
"I got onto the coach and a couple of the lads turned around to me and said, 'Have you seen your dad's video? It's gone viral already'
"I didn't have a clue and I looked at it and I couldn't watch it for long because it made me quite emotional.
"I watched it the first bit and thought, 'I've got to turn it off because I don't want to show the lads I'm emotional!'
"He called me and just told me how proud he was. My dad's had more fame than me from this! Scrolling through Twitter and seeing my family name, it just makes me proud. It's great that I can repay them for what they've done for me."
The other important man in his journey has been his grandad Craig, who suffered a heart attack two years ago and still has some brain problems even though he is getting better.
Declan was "heartbroken" he couldn't be there in person because of COVID-19 pandemic but made sure to visit him and give him his match shirt, which will be going up in his back bedroom.
"My grandad took me to every single game so I went round to his house on Sunday and I took my shirt round. I gave him my shirt and I could tell he was happy.
"He's not really expressed emotions in front of me but I could tell I made him proud. That was one of the best parts for me.
"He's more resilient than me - that's where I've got it from. Anything he wants me to do, I'll do it for him."
What next for Declan? He's still hopeful of a new contract as his current deal expires next summer, but for now he is concentrating on breaking into the Wednesday.
"I just want to focus on playing football and enjoying it really. I hope it's with Wednesday. I just want to kick on and become a household name in every Wednesday fan's house."
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