Spirit of Swanage delivers Christmas gift for Emily

Brave Swanage teenager Emily McDonald will be flying out to the USA in the New Year for life changing treatment – thanks to the generosity of Purbeck fundraisers.

An astounding £75,000 target is just a few thousand pounds short of being reached, after hundreds of people who were touched by the young student’s determination to walk again, took part in fundraising events.

Emily has always remained positive despite her many stays in hospital

After three years of hospital treatment and pain, Emily is close to a treatment which could give her back her life

Brain sends out continual pain signals

The March for McDonald fund was launched in September 2023 and in just four months it has raised £64,000 with extra money flooding in from people who set up their own collections – plus a £5,000 pledge from the new owners of AFC Bournemouth. This means that Emily has been able to confirm a place at the clinic starting in mid January 2024.

Emily, who was left in agony with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) after a routine operation to remove her appendix, found that the NHS was unable to cure her disorder.

It drives the brain to send out continual pain signals even when there is no physical damage to the body. It’s known as the world’s most painful syndrome and has even led to a number of young people taking their own lives because of the agony.

But when Emily’s family heard of the Spero Cinic in Arkansas which has had groundbreaking success in treating CRPS, they set out to raise enough money to send her there for a four-month treatment programme.

Fundraising will continue for a while longer, though, as there is a chance that the four-month treatment programme in the USA may have to be extended slightly.

Andrea and her daughter Emily, who needs life changing treatment at a clinic in the USA

Andrea and Emily McDonald will fly to Arkansas, USA in January 2024 to begin four months of treatment

“Every New Year’s Eve we have just cried”

Her mother Andrea McDonald said:

“We had our own plans of what we would do if we didn’t raise enough money, including selling the house, but Swanage has just been absolutely phenomenal – people have been so supportive and generous towards us, we are just so proud to live here.

“Emotionally and physically it has been difficult recently, especially as Emily has insisted on attending the events where people have put themselves to so much trouble to raise money for her, even though it wipes her out afterwards.

“But when we reached £50,000, we booked a place at the clinic, a hire car and Air BnB for four months and now the end of our nightmare is finally in sight.

“Every New Year’s Eve for the past three years we have just cried and at midnight wished that perhaps the next year would be better. We have learned a lot over the years, but now we can actually look forward and be positive.”


Emily with Dan Chambers, general manager of Gee Whites, getting the word out about March for McDonald on community radio station Purbeck Coast 101.2FM


Jonathan Ross and his Christmas guests made Emily a VIP guest when the show was recorded

Jonathan Ross made Emily a VIP guest

March for McDonald fundraisers have been happening across Purbeck since September 2023, including a charity football match at Swanage Town and Herston FC in which Harry Redknapp’s grandson Bobbie and Torquay United manager Gary Johnson played.

A charity walk from Swanage Bay to Studland Beach was attended by hundreds, inspiring a seven year old boy, Carson, to do his own walk from Kimmeridge to Swanage to raise funds for Emily.

Singer Karen Grant raised funds at a Christmas show at The Mowlem, Wareham Golf Club got behind March for McDonald with their captain’s charity, cake sales and coffee mornings have been organised across Purbeck and even local primary school pupils donated pocket money for the cause.

Dan Chambers, general manager at Gee Whites, who has been key in organising the campaign to send Emily to America, has held his own gruelling Iron Man event which included a 4 km swim, a 180 km cycle ride and a 42 km run.

When Andrea and Emily asked Swanage businesses for raffle prizes to auction, not one refused, and when they approached local TV personality Jonathan Ross for help, he not only donated on line, but also invited Emily and her family to be VIP guests at his Christmas show.


The March for McDonald football team took on Swanage and Herston FC to raise funds for the cause


Thousands of pounds were raised despite pouring rain and very muddy conditions

“I am overwhelmed by it all”

Emily said:

“Jonathan Ross gave us three pairs of tickets for his chat shows to auction off, then invited me and my nan up to his see his Christmas show, where we met celebrities including Romesh Ranganathan, Kevin Bridges, Katherine Jenkins and Willem Dafoe, it was amazing, I’ve never been to anything like that before.

“Jonathan was so kind, but the whole town has been amazing, there was a lady that we don’t even know who had money for her 70th birthday which she donated.

“A lot of others who have suffered from the same condition as me have reached out to give their support. A girl in America who had the same thing set up a yard sale in New York and raised some money for us.

“I am so happy and overwhelmed by it all and would like to thank every single shop, business and person, who has helped, it feels like the whole of the town.

“I now have to learn how to live again and we will thank everyone properly when I am walking again.”

A hike along the Jurassic coast was one of many fundraisers for Emily McDonald

Hikers on the March for McDonald were also beset by bad weather – but carried on smiling!


Hot drinks were provided at the halfway point by the Sandy Salt Pig at Middle Beach, Studland

A date in May to be home by

Emily has already set her own target of a date in May 2024 that she wants to be back home for, to watch her beloved Arsenal women’s football team play their final game of the season and hopefully lift the Barclay’s Super League title.

The Spero Clinic has achieved remarkable results with those who suffer from CRPS, by isolating a nerve at the base of the brain – the vagus nerve – which appears to misfire and send out continual pain signals which shouldn’t exist.

Thanks to an intensive programme which includes stimulation of the vagus nerve using electric impulses, oxygen therapy, physiotherapy, exercise and scar tissue treatment, they have been able to send 85 percent of patients back home walking freely and out of pain.

All the stars of Arsenal have promised to follow Emily's progress back to recovery

Emily intends to be back by May 2024, walking and pain free, to see her Arsenal heroes win the women’s Super League trophy

“We are very excited about going”

Andrea added:

“We are very excited about going, but also very aware that four months of intensive physio four days a week will be painful for Emily. Getting her out of the wheelchair and off her crutches will be extremely hard work, and will be very hard for me to watch.

“We will post progress updates and videos from Arkansas on the March for McDonald Facebook and Instagram pages because everyone has invested so much time in us, that we would like to show them how we are getting on.

“And when Emily is walking around Swanage in summer with no crutches, no wheelchair, no pain, everyone in the town can say they had something to do with that – that is our best way of showing our thanks.”

Further information

  • Updates from the Spero Clinic in Arkansas will be posted on Emily’s Instagram page
  • Donations to help Emily achieve her target of £75,000 can be made via her gofundme page
  • Read more stories from the Spero Clinic on its website

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