Young girl left unable to speak after tracheotomy now communicates via iPad 

A young girl who lost her voice after brain tumour surgery can now only communicate using her iPad – and SIRI.

Millie Garbutt was left unable to speak after having a life-saving tracheotomy after doctors operated on a brain tumour.

Now the 12-year-old has to communicate using the text-to-speech function on her tablet computer – that uses the same voice as Apple’s ‘virtual assistant’ Siri.

Mum Emma Garbutt said: “She has an iPad and another electronic device which attaches to her wheelchair and helps her communicate with everyone.

“It’s great, she can natter away like nobody’s business.”

Millie was rushed to hospital after an optician noticed an abnormality during a routine check-up in October 2014.

Doctors later discovered a brain tumour and following lengthy hospital treatment, the brave young girl had three major operations, including one to remove the tumour.

After having a tube inserted into her windpipe, Millie, from Sanderstead, south London, has been left unable to talk or swallow.

The schoolgirl, who is paralysed on one side and has to use a wheelchair, uses an iPad to write messages on to communicate with her friends and family.

Emma, Millie’s full-time carer, added: “She’s got an iPad from Great Ormond Street Hospital which she has a text to speech app, and another one which she writes things down on, but I lip read for her.

“I just didn’t get along with it, I’m not that way inclined, so I’ve developed quite a high level of lip reading.

“The iPad is a fashion accessory for Millie as well, being a girl at the age she is, she likes to use it as often as possible to write things down.

“She only goes to school three mornings a week because we’re trying to train someone one-to-one with her.

“She loves school and she hadn’t been for two years.

“We’re hoping she can start going five mornings a week in September and then maybe full-time by January – it’s taken its toll but we’d rather be safe than sorry.

“It is heart-breaking – October 15, 2015 was the last time I heard my daughter’s voice.”

Millie has now been able to start attending Valence Special School in Westerham, Kent, but is currently only able to attend for three mornings a week.

But Emma is optimistic that by January, she will be able to go full-time as she ‘loves school’.

Emma, 43, described the family’s ordeal over the last three years as “devastating”, “cruel”, and “heart-breaking”.

She added: “It was devastating when we found out. I can only think of such a strong word to use.

“It’s devastating for Millie and for me, she went into hospital walking, talking and eating and she came out a completely different child.

“Her frustration can be quite high but that’s natural.

“At moments it can be really hard, I would like to say it’s not but it’s normal considering what she’s been through.

“It can be extremely hard and a lot of people don’t understand, they don’t need to if they’re not going through it.

“I was the same when i wasn’t involved in it, you look back and think you must’ve been ignorant but it’s easy when it’s not involved in your life – I can look at it from both sides now.

“For all of the family and close friends it is heart-breaking. It has just destroyed us all.

“Millie is strong and she is still fighting though, her strength is incredible and I don’t see that level of strength in some adults.”

Earlier this year, Emma accused Croydon Council of not doing enough to help the family find a suitable home to address Millie’s needs.

Since then, the council have been working with the family and a new bungalow in the borough has been refurbished to meet Millie’s needs.

The family hope to move into their new home in the coming weeks.

Emma said: “After I took the council to the press I’ve got a bungalow, but I shouldn’t have had to do that.

“I got an ultimatum from social services – when Millie was ready to leave hospital after radiotherapy, they said we had to find a family member to live with or they’d take her into care.

“As you can imagine, I lost it – after the journey we’d been on I didn’t deserve that, we’ve
been to hell and back.

“I’m very excited to have a bungalow and so is Millie, she’s entitled to it.

“All children are entitled to this care and they’re not getting it, social care has completely lapsed.”

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