Together we can help Dakota (12) speak her very first word

Cerebral palsy sufferer Dakota Read with (from left) sister Lachan, mum Paula, brother Jake and Jake's girlfriend, Julie Whiting. SG290316-101TW
Cerebral palsy sufferer Dakota Read with (from left) sister Lachan, mum Paula, brother Jake and Jake's girlfriend, Julie Whiting. SG290316-101TW
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It’s the language a loving mum understands when her baby “talks with her eyes”.

That’s how Paula Wheeldon describes daughter Dakota Read, who is likely to reach her 13th birthday next month without having spoken aloud a single word.

Mum Paula is looking forward to hearing Dakota speak her first words. SG290316-107TW

Mum Paula is looking forward to hearing Dakota speak her first words. SG290316-107TW

We are asking Spalding Guardian readers to bring about a momentous change in Dakota’s life by helping to buy an eye gaze machine costing £5,600.

The machine will literally allow Dakota to speak with her eyes by using technology to translate her gaze into words spoken by a synthetic voice.

The same technology could also open up another whole new world for Dakota by allowing her to turn the television or lights on and off.

A traumatic birth left Dakota and Paula fighting for their lives and beating survival odds of less than one per cent.

I remember, when she was born, for the first two weeks she didn’t make a sound. The first time that she cried had both myself and the staff on the special care baby unit in tears because she had actually made a sound.

Dakota’s mum Paula

Dakota was diagnosed with quadriplegic dystonic cerebral palsy and Paula developed health complications that have required eight lots of surgery.

Although Dakota uses an eye gaze machine at her special school in Lincoln, her time on it is limited because it’s shared by several pupils – a machine at home will speed her training and practice in its use and also allow her to talk to her family.

Paula and Dakota’s sister Lachan (20) and brother Jake (22) have dared to dream about the day Dakota will speak to them – and Lachan explains that the machine can be set up to give Dakota her own unique voice.

Paula (46) said: “You think ‘what will be the first thing she will actually say?’. I remember, when she was born, for the first two weeks she didn’t make a sound.

By working together, we can help Dakota to start speaking. SG290316-104TW

By working together, we can help Dakota to start speaking. SG290316-104TW

“The first time that she cried had both myself and the staff on the special care baby unit in tears because she had actually made a sound.”

In 2011, the Spalding Guardian launched a campaign, asking local tradesmen to transform the family’s garden in Broadgate, Weston Hills, so Dakota could get around it in her adapted walker.

In 2013, the BBC’s DIY SOS team supported by local tradesmen remodelled the family’s house.

It’s a programme that’s been repeated on TV and the latest showing on Really saw a flurry of activity on social media worldwide and one of our past stories rocket up the ratings on our website.

The BBC’s DIY SOS programme changed the family’s home so they could all comfortably live under one roof, which meant Dakota’s big brother Jake could move out of the family shed.

After the show first aired, the family has witnessed a number of dramas ... and romance blossomed for Paula, with a fairytale ending.

Dakota had major surgery in September 2013 when two spinal rods were inserted to correct curvature of her spine that could have compromised internal organs.

“It took her a year to fully recover from it,” said Paula.

As Lachan prepared for university, taking a course in special needs and inclusion that was inspired by Dakota, she and her boyfriend enrolled their mum on a matchmaking website. It led to Paula meeting builder Rick Wheeldon and marriage to him last August.

In 2014 an F15 jet fighter crashed in Weston Hills, missing the family’s newly-adapted home by “two fields”.

Luckily their home remains the centre of happy, family life.

For a time, the family’s home was sealed within a road block as air crash investigators got to work and Dakota found new friends among the American Air Force, who welcomed her to their canteen.

So far, the family’s fundraising to buy the easy gaze machine has raised £1,800 and we have donated a further £500 from the Lincs Free Press Children’s Fund.

• We would be happy to receive donations, large or small, from our readers to help raise the remaining £3,300.

If you can help, please make cheques payable to Lincs Free Press Children’s Fund and send them to The Spalding Guardian at Priory House, The Crescent, Spalding PE11 1AB or call reporter Lynne Harrison on 01775 765413. You can also call Lynne to tell us about your fundraising ideas.

Previously ...

DIY SOS team to transform home of disabled girl (8)

‘Things like this don’t happen to people like me’ – mum’s DIY SOS joy

Striding towards Dakota’s dream