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WATCH: Inverness teenager battling leukaemia wins Highland Heroes award with his fighting spirit

By Annabelle Gauntlett

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Vilis Forstmanis won the Brave Child award sponsored by Macleod and MacCallum.
Vilis Forstmanis won the Brave Child award sponsored by Macleod and MacCallum.

An inspirational teenage black belt in karate who has been determined not to give up his sport despite battling against cancer won the Brave Child Highland Heroes award.

Vilis Forstmanis (14), a member of Karate Alba Federation (KAF) in Inverness, spent a lengthy period in hospital after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and at one stage had to be put in an induced coma

Although the chemotherapy treatment – which he is still continuing to receive – has affected the use of his legs, the resolute youngster is determined to carry on with his beloved sport.

After winning his accolade at the Highland Heroes awards, he said: "It feels amazing and I'm very happy to receive the award.

"Honestly I am very shocked by it, but it is amazing to have my family, friends and karate family here with me."

Latvian-born Vilis, a pupil at Inverness Royal Academy, lives with his parents Girts Forstmanis and Liana Liepina-Forstmane, and sister Enija.

He started training at Merkinch Karate Club, run by Sensei Dolina Ross, about seven years ago and went on to win his black belt.

But about a year ago he started to experience sore legs and headaches while training for the Karate Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Following tests, he was diagnosed with his cancer and immediately admitted to the Royal Aberdeen Hospital for Sick Children.

The past year has brought huge challenges for Vilis and his family.

His mum Liana said: "I am very proud and surprised to see Vilis win tonight as everyone who was nominated is a winner.

"I am just so excited to see him win."

On one occasion, his heart stopped and a medical team took over five minutes to resuscitate him while his parents shouted prayers over him.

He was flown by emergency helicopter to a specialist unit in Edinburgh where he remained in a coma for a week.

Vilis talked about how the love of karate and his family and friends have been instrumental in getting him on the road to recovery.

He said: "My karate family has always supported me, especially through the hard times while I was in hospital.

"They have always been there for me and helped me no matter what."

First six winners of the Highland Heroes awards.
First six winners of the Highland Heroes awards.

But getting back to the sport was not always easy as he could not walk after the chemotherapy and had to be carried to the bathroom by his mum.

"If I tried to walk, it felt like my feet were raw," explains Vilis, who was determined not to let the pain take over.

His mum said the diagnosis had come as a shock.

"We cannot understand the reason why it happened," she said.

"He had been well and looked after himself and trained hard. He is into karate and cycled to school and was always in good physical condition."

She also reflected on the challenges of the past year.

"It was a really hard time," she said. "But Dolina and the karate club are our friends.

"All the time, they supported us. All the time they supported Vilis."

Ms Ross recalled Vilis when he first joined the club.

"He always trained hard, was very engaged in my class from the outset and stood out as an exceptional student with good attention to detail," she said.

While he was in hospital, she took along gifts from the other students along with silly wigs and woolly hats to wear when his hair fell out.

She said Vilis had been overcome with everyone's kindness.

She said when she asked him to help with coaching via a video link, she was surprised he had such a good eye for excellence and was able to communicate at a high level.

She said he had a strong spirit.

"I cannot explain in words just how proud I feel of Vilis, a very special and much-loved student," she said.

The brave child award was sponsored by Macleod and MacCallum.

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