Almost exactly one year ago, Susan Lucci‘s grandson Brendan — who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was a toddler — underwent a selective dorsal rhizotomy, which involved cutting some sensory nerves in the lower spinal cord in order to make it easier for him to walk.
And now, not only is Brendan strutting red carpets, but he’s hitting the slopes as well.
“He’s skiing!” the soap-opera legend, 70, told PEOPLE of milestones the 8½-year-old reached recently at the ADAPT Community Network (formerly United Cerebral Palsy NYC)’s 70th Anniversary Gala Thursday night in New York City.
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Of course, it wasn’t easy for Brendan, who is on the “lighter end of the cerebral palsy spectrum,” according to Lucci, and whose gait — “mostly his left leg” — was affected by the condition, as she tells PEOPLE.
“I mean, the first couple times it took two instructors to hold him up,” says the All My Children star’s daughter, Liza Huber. “So to see him pretty much free skiing … it’s amazing. It’s incredible. He’s made a lot of great strides.”
Brendan’s actually catching up with his spry grandma. “In the fall, he hiked a mountain path that I have hiked, and it’s not easy,” Lucci said proudly at the event, which included over 750 attendees and marked the official launch of ADAPT Community Network.
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How is this all possible? The surgery was a major success. “They were able to remove 100 percent of the spasticity in his body,” Huber told PEOPLE (the spasticity causes the stiffness of the muscles and movements).
“So he’s walking without braces and he can put his feet flat on the floor,” Lucci explained before speaking at the event. “He has greater range of motion.”
But being on his feet isn’t really new to the adorable redhead.
“Even before — there are four children in the family, he’s No. 2 in the lineup — my daughter had this industrial-sized trampoline in the backyard, and he would run with his brothers and sisters,” Lucci recalls. “He wasn’t the first one to get there, but he would rip his braces off.”
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The spirit Brendan has now — exhibited at the event, dancing to the live band and waving to his grandma as she took the stage — has always been there.
“He always had a lot of spirit. He’s never looked at himself as a victim,” the charitable star explains. “He doesn’t complain, he never did, and he’s just creative and smart as a little whip, and very engaging and warm.”