Saturday 24 February 2018

'Guardian Angel' gives Jessica a voice with gift of €22k device

Lynn Marie Walsh with her nine-year-old daughter Jessica, who has Rett Syndrome and can now speak due to a new device. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Lynn Marie Walsh with her nine-year-old daughter Jessica, who has Rett Syndrome and can now speak due to a new device. Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Alan O'Keeffe

A young girl who was unable to speak due to a devastating disorder uttered the name of her brother for the first time with the help of a device gifted by an anonymous donor.

Jessica Walsh (9), who was diagnosed with Rett syndrome as a infant, was unable to walk, talk or feed.

However, the new device, operated by her eye movements, enabled her to say her brother's name - Elliott - this week for the first time ever.

Her mother Lynn Marie Walsh said: "I'm overwhelmed. It's like I've won the lottery."

The device, named the Tobii Eye Gazer, was delivered to the family home in Newbridge, Co Kildare, after a generous listener heard Ms Walsh speak of her plight on the 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' programme on RTÉ Radio One in February.

The anonymous donor, who paid €22,000 for the device, is "Jessica's guardian angel," said the delighted mother.

Lone parent Ms Walsh (39), who grew up in Inchicore, Dublin, provides full-time care to her daughter with the help of her son Elliott (13).

Jessica appeared to be "a healthy, bouncy baby when one year old, who was learning to walk and babbling baby words", but she suddenly suffered a very bad seizure.

"She was diagnosed with Rett syndrome and lost her ability to walk and talk within weeks," Ms Walsh said.

"It robbed Jessica of everything. The Jessica I knew had giggled and laughed. It was like I was handed back an empty shell. So it took me two years to even register that in my brain and I suffered with depression over it."

She said her son Elliott had always wanted a little sister to be able to play with.

"Oh my God, now this machine has opened so many doors for all of us," Ms Walsh said.

She said photographs can be installed in the device, which allows Jessica to say the names of the people in the pictures.

"Jessica's first words after that were 'Elliott, Elliott, Elliott'," said Ms Walsh.

"It was a great moment. Elliott couldn't believe it.

"He went over to her and asked 'Are you looking for me?' And she said 'Yes'. Then he gave her a big hug and a kiss.

"He was crying and she was smiling at him. He said it was the best thing he ever experienced in his life," she said.

"Thanks to the Tobii Eye Gazer and the anonymous caller, my daughter will eventually be able to have a full conversation with her mammy. And that's all I want."

She said Jessica has taken to the machine "like a duck to water" and has progressed far beyond expectations, exhibiting a great deal of intelligence.

Ms Walsh is delighted the device is portable and can be attached to Jessica's wheelchair, which means she will eventually be able to talk to people on the street during outings.

She said the unknown person who donated the device "is classed as one of our family now".

Irish Independent

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