FIVE years ago this week, brave schoolboy Thomas Brennan was preparing for his first Christmas without “crazy legs".

Thomas had previously suffered from such terrible leg pain that the youngster, then aged five, was unable to walk. He underwent pioneering surgery in the US to treat his spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, when medics in St Louis, Missouri, cut into his spine and severed a nerve in the hope that it would fix what Thomas called his "crazy legs."

The operation left the youngster pain free and able to run.

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His mother, Jodie Bussey said: "Before the operation, I just hoped he would be free of pain. I had no idea what to expect physically.

"I have more peace now, because I've fought so hard to get what's best for him. He's 100 per cent better."

Also, that week, North-East stars spoke out against a proposal to scrap the arts budget Newcastle.

Angel of the North creator Anthony Gormley, and actors Kevin Whately and Robson Green were among the stars who criticised Newcastle City Council for preparing to cut its entire £2.5m budget for arts organisations, in an effort to save £90m a year.

The celebrities wrote in a joint letter, the council was "throwing away a shared cultural heritage, built up by generations and generations of ordinary people in the city".

Adding, the cuts could result in "generations of young people denied access to the opportunities we were given and, without the council's support, the arts will simply become a pursuit for the most wealthy".

Meanwhile, car maker Nissan delivered a 280-job £250m boost to the region as it announced plans to build its new luxury model at its North-East plant.

The decision to make the £35,000 Infiniti premium hatchback at Sunderland meant the plant would become only the second factory outside Japan – and the first in Europe – to make cars for Nissan's luxury arm.

The announcement came two days after the plant hit the half a million vehicle mark that year.

In panto news, an actress playing a mermaid in a North-East pantomime had to be replaced at the last minute by Tinker Bell after falling on the ice and breaking her wrist.

The dramatic twist – hours before the opening performance of Peter Pan at Middlesbrough Theatre – happened when Joanne Shields, who was playing Mrs Darling and Miranda the Mermaid, took a tumble on the ice in Linthorpe.

Instead of sitting on the Mermaid's Rock during the opening matinee, Ms Shields found herself sitting in A&E – with the rest of the cast rallying around to ensure the show went ahead.

Amy Burrows, who plays Tinker Bell, stepped into her shoes, while Rachel Thornton, who has been dancing in Middlesbrough Theatre pantomimes from the age of six, made her professional acting debut as Tinker Bell.

Ms Shields was back from hospital in time to resume her role – complete with plaster cast – in the evening show.

Middlesbrough Theatre manager David Lindsey said: "In true theatrical tradition, the cast weren't going to let the small matter of a broken bone get in the way of a great show."