Tuesday 20 February 2018

'It's like hearing a new baby talk' - Moment Jessica (9) communicates with family for the first time thanks to generous donor

Elliot (13) Lynnmarie and Jessica (9) Walsh. Jessica has received a Toby Gaze machine to help her communicate.
Elliot (13) Lynnmarie and Jessica (9) Walsh. Jessica has received a Toby Gaze machine to help her communicate.

Alan O'Keeffe

A girl who could not speak was able to say her brother's name for the first time with the help of a device gifted by an anonymous donor.

Jessica Walsh (9) has been unable to walk, talk or feed herself because of a rare and devastating disorder.

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, this week thanks to a generous listener who heard Lynn Marie speak of her plight on the Today with Sean O'Rourke programme on RTE Radio One in February.

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

Douglas O'Connor. Lynn Marie and Jessica (9) Walsh. Jessica has received a Toby Gaze machine to help her communicate.
Douglas O'Connor. Lynn Marie and Jessica (9) Walsh. Jessica has received a Toby Gaze machine to help her communicate.

Lone parent Lynn Marie (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," Lynn Marie told the Herald.

"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.

He was very sad about her condition and has always helped to care for her.

"Oh my God, now this machine has opened so many doors for all of us," she 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 Lynn Marie.

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

"He told me: 'She's actually calling me.' And 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 added.

"It uses infrared. Jessica operates it with her eyes.

"A normal person would touch a screen or a keyboard. She has good eye coordination.

"I've been in floods of tears. It's like hearing a new baby talk for the first time.

"I know that my little girl was trapped in her body.

"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.

"After the past nine years, I will now be able to sit down with her and ask her what she likes and what she doesn't like, what her favourite colour is and where she likes to go.

"And to enjoy and cherish every moment of that, because with Rett syndrome there's very limited life expectancy and I want to cherish every moment that Jessica has."

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.

"She's as happy as Larry now. She's just having a whale of a time," she said. "All I can hear is her giggling away to herself with the machine. She's having great fun."

Lynn Marie is delighted that 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" and that anonymous person is Jessica's "guardian angel".

"All I can say is I cannot thank that person enough," Lynn Marie said. "This has opened so many doors for Jessica and has made me the happiest mother in the world.

"Elliott is over the moon."

Yesterday, she spoke of her joy on the Sean O'Rourke radio show.

"We are delighted to think there was somebody there with a generous heart and a decent bank account who could write the cheque for it," said O'Rourke.

An RTE spokeswoman said later: "We are thrilled to hear that, on foot of her interview with Sean, this generous offer has been made.

"We look forward to hearing how Jessica and Lynn Marie's lives will be so dramatically improved as a result of the eye sensory machine."

The broadcaster had originally invited Lynn Marie in February to speak on behalf of Family Carers Ireland and its new campaign, Share The Care - Nobody Should Care Alone.


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