‘Miracle’ as James, 16, speaks for first time

AN emotional mother burst into tears after hearing her disabled 16-year-old son speak for the first time in his life - thanks to a revolutionary new machine.

16-year-old James Walker of Hull  with mum Gina. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
16-year-old James Walker of Hull with mum Gina. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

Severely epileptic James Walker, from Hull, had spent his whole life unable to talk until a high-tech eye tracking machine at his school gave him a voice.

James has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, meaning he used to suffer between 30-50 fits a day before being fitted with an electrical device in his head.

And, although he can see, hear and think, his severe epilepsic attacks meant he never developed properly, so has never learnt to walk or talk.

The 16-year-old’s parents, Gina and Ian Walker, had almost given up hope that their son would ever say a word, until he said ‘hello’.

The breakthrough came after James started using an eye-tracking machine at his school.

By staring at points on the screen he can instruct it to say what he is thinking.

Mrs Walker said: “When I walked into the room and heard him say ‘hello’, I burst into tears. For his entire life, he hasn’t been able to speak, so it feels like a miracle.

“It was massive news for us and very exciting. It was like a door opening for James to the rest of the world.

“People had said for years that James would never be able to do anything but we knew he has something to give and now he has found his voice.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this machine will change James’s life completely. It will give him independence for the first time and give him a chance to make his own choices.

“He will be able to communicate with those around him and it will help him protect himself.

“James has never been able to tell us what he wants. Now we will be able to ask him what he wants to watch on telly, or what he wants to eat for dinner.

“I would love to hear him say ‘I love you’ like we say to him everyday and to hear James talk to his sister and his dad.

“For James to find his voice after 16 years is huge.”

Mrs Walker, a charity worker, said James had an operation to install a nerve stimulator - a piece of equipment designed to reduce seizures by sending electrical pulses to the brain - last year, and since then his fits have reduced to around ten a day.

“I think that operation helped, I don’t think he could have used the machine before that, he would have been fitting too much.

“He now has more respite between seizures allowing him to use the machine. He would have been moving around too much before.”

Rugby fan James has been learning to use the eye-tracking machine at Frederick Holmes School in Hull, but Mrs Walker says he only gets two 15-minute session a week on it.

Mrs Walker and Ian are now trying to raise the £12,000 needed to pay for his own machine to use at home.

Ian, 45, says it is vital James has his own machine if he is ever going to be able to live like other people his age.

The warehouse worker said: “People act as though they expect James to be reading Shakespeare overnight, but it doesn’t work like that.

“He needs a lot of practice to use this machine and get to the stage where he will be able to talk to us about anything.

“We can see he is frustrated sometimes and wants to communicate with us, but he can’t.

“Now with this machine, we can see a future where James will be able to tell us what he wants, which has never happened before. The possibilities are endless.”

Mum-of-two Mrs Walker said that her lad doesn’t have a massive vocabulary yet, but she hopes that will improve with time.

“He started off playing games on the machine and then popping bubbles on it until he managed to use it to speak.

“I can’t remember exactly when he said his first word but it was before Christmas last year.

“He said ‘hello’ and has said phrases ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’, ‘I do’, ‘I don’t’. He doesn’t have a massive vocabulary but that should improve if we get out own machine.”

After hearing of the family’s plight, the father of a fellow disabled child at Frederick Holmes School has set up a campaign to raise money for their cause.

David Hoyle, whose daughter Annie-May also suffers from severe epilepsy, has set up the James Walker 100 challenge, where he has asked 100 strangers to each raise £120 towards buying James his own eye-tracking machine.

Mr Hoyle said: “As the father of a disabled child, I know how hard it can be to raise money.”

Mrs Walker, also mum to 19-year-old Natasha, said the family were overwhelmed by the support they have received.

She said: “It’s incredible how many people have come forward to say they want to help James – it’s very humbling.

“We don’t know how much has been raised yet but it would be great to get one of these machines at home for James to use.

“The most surprising thing is that most of these people are complete strangers and have never even met him before.”

To take part in the James Walker 100, call David Hoyle on 07970 046484.