Magnificent readers have done their bit to help a girl of 11 perform a miracle by speaking for the first time in her life.
We launched an appeal in our sister paper, The Spalding Guardian, to help Dakota Read’s mum, Paula Wheeldon, buy an eye gaze machine costing £5,600.
Dakota is so desperate to talk at the moment. My biggest fear was that she was going to lose interest and then give up on wanting to speak. It was just a complete miracle that you guys have done this so we can get her own machine.Mum Paula Wheeldon
The machine will translate Dakota’s gaze into the spoken word and can be set up to give Dakota a unique synthetic voice, likely to be based on that of her mum and big sister Lachan. When we launched the appeal on March 31, Paula told us: “I just look forward to the day when I hear Dakota’s first words.”
Paula had already been promised £1,800 before we launched our appeal.
Readers dug deep and then Holbeach-based Chosen Charity shop weighed in with a whopping £3,000 cheque to complete the appeal in one go.
The charity’s joint manager, Iris Boland, read Dakota’s moving story and all of the volunteers voted for the big donation going to Dakota. Iris broke the news on Paula’s 47th birthday and it put Dakota’s mum on cloud nine.
Paula told us: “It’s absolutely fantastic. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s my birthday today and I’ll certainly remember this birthday for a long time to come.
“Dakota is so desperate to talk at the moment. My biggest fear was that she was going to lose interest and then give up on wanting to speak.
“It was just a complete miracle that you guys have done this so we can get her own machine.
“It’s a great thing that people have done and I want to thank everyone who donated.”
Dakota has quadriplegic dystonic cerebral palsy and, throughout the little girl’s life, Paula has longed for the day when she truly knows what Dakota is thinking and no longer has to rely on her “talking with her eyes”.
Paula will place an order for the machine tomorrow, just two days before Dakota’s 12th birthday.
It will take about 28 days for the machine to arrive and then Dakota can practice until she is accomplished enough to speak – and to send emails.
Some of the people who have made the family’s dreams come true met Dakota and Paula to celebrate.
They included representatives from Chosen Charity and Spalding Lions, who donated £1,000 of the original £1,800 pledged personally to Paula.
Chosen Charity has raised many thousands of pounds for good causes chosen by its volunteers.
“We do it on a democratic vote,” said Iris. “We are a local, Holbeach charity. We have 16 dedicated volunteers and they all give their time for free. We have wonderful support from the people of Holbeach bringing in their donations and purchasing from our shop in Fleet Street.”
Sally Sneath said Spalding Lions were glad to help because Dakota has been locked inside herself and the eye gaze machine will free her.
“I think this will make a huge difference to Dakota,” said Sally.
“She is a lovely little girl and she knows exactly what you are saying to her. I just think it’s fantastic that she will be able to express her thoughts and let everybody know what she wants.”
The Lincs Free Press Children’s Fund set the ball rolling with a £500 donation and the Rotary Club of South Holland gave £250.
Rotarian Peter Kite told us: “We wish you all success in this project.”
Individual donations from readers brought in some £370 and we are extremely grateful to them.
The balance that is left over from the Chosen Charity donation will go into the Lincs Free Press Children’s Fund, which exists to benefit children who are in genuine need throughout our circulation area.
On Friday a gentleman kindly donated a further £5 to the Lincs Free Press Children’s Fund, saying it could go to help other children now our appeal for Dakota is completed.
• One of our readers who has experience of eye gaze technology suggested the NHS might meet Dakota’s needs by prescribing a machine.
Mum Paula Wheeldon checked that out with NHS officials in Lincoln, but says she ruled it out after learning Dakota would have to demonstrate proficiency on any such machine before one could be prescribed.
Paula says Dakota uses an eye gaze machine at her special school in Lincoln, but her time on it is very restricted because it is shared by a number of pupils.
She believes only by having a similar machine at home will Dakota become “proficient” in its use and one day her practice will pay off when she is able to speak aloud for the very first time.