THERE was nothing to do but wait.

A team of surgeons were upstairs operating on Graeme and Leanne Huther's little girl. A tumour had woven its way through 15-year-old Melinda's brain.

And it would take six hours for the doctors to remove it.

The Huthers have documented the entire ordeal in pictures: the surgery aftermath and each milestone Melinda has achieved since.

Five years on, her proud dad is flicking through the photographs with The Observer.

"It's heart wrenching, I tell ya," Graeme said.

Melinda's not home. She's down in Brisbane at the Princess Alexandra Hospital.

The surgery weakened her entire right side, and rehabilitation is an ongoing process.

But Melinda, now 20, has improved beyond belief since her surgery.

She had to relearn how to swallow, walk and talk.

A nasal gastric tube fed her, much to Melinda's distaste.

And two shunts to drain cerebral fluid from her brain were inserted.

Now, Melinda has a casual job at Best and Less, which she loves. And she's about to start a Certificate 3 in Retail.

Graeme is in awe of his girl, who he calls Lou. "She's the only person I know who lives life to the fullest. Nothing has held her back."

MORE SPECIALISTS NEEDED

THE Huther family recently made its 104th trip to Brisbane.

The drive has become routine since Graeme and Leanne's daughter Melinda had a brain tumour removed.

Graeme said facilities to provide rehabilitation after a brain injury were seriously lacking in Gladstone. And the trips to Brisbane are costly.

The family can claim some cash back through Queensland Health's Patient Travel Scheme. But it's still an expensive exercise.

Graeme said it would make more sense to have specialists based in Gladstone.

"Why not have the doctors in town?" he said.

The Huthers have spent a great deal of time at hospitals in Brisbane. And they see many other local folk who also require specialist treatment.

"We see so many people from Gladstone in Brisbane..."

The Observer has launched a campaign to improve disability services in Gladstone. We want to share stories about those parents, carers and people affected by disability who live in our community. Is that you? Call Beth Young on 4970 3024.