THE parents of a severely disabled teenager who communicates through smiling and blinking his eyes have called him their inspiration.

Liam Barker has been on life support since birth and relies on two ventilators 24 hours a day to fight terminal muscle-wasting disease, myotubular myopathy.

Doctors predicted that he would not live to see his third birthday, but at 17 he is now believed to be the UK's oldest sufferer.

His parents, Philip and Michelle said that however tumultuous their lives are, he inspires them to carry on.

Eighteen months ago the cash-strapped couple from Linthorpe in Middlesbrough were struggling to pay the spiralling electricity bills for the equipment needed to keep their son alive.

But 18 months ago TCS, Fire Safety Services, in Middlesbrough, which designs and supplies fire alarms, donated 1,350 raised through a charity walk after reading about the familys plight in the Northern Echo.

Mr Barker said they had been overwhelmed by the gesture and their bills had now dropped from 147 to a more manageable 90 per month.

They now want to extend their sons room, which they say he has outgrown, and are hoping a wetroom-style bathroom could be created next door.

"Liam recently broke his leg, which we think is because of the cramped conditions he is living in. "But despite this he is always happy. He takes everything on the chin and just carries on."

Liam's rare muscle condition affects one in ten million children, most of whom do not survive beyond their first birthday.

He is unable to walk, talk or use his arms, and communicates by blinking his eyes.

Mrs Barker added: "No matter how hard it is looking after him he always has a smile for us and he makes it all worthwhile. He is a real inspiration to us both."