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Brave Bronte: Doctors Give Premature Girl A Voice After Years Using Sign Language

24/01/2012 13:25 | Updated 22 May 2015
Brave Bronte can finally tell her parents she loves them: Doctors give premature girl a voice after years using sign languageWorldwide Features

It was a long struggle for Bronte Cassell to be able to speak, but when she did, her first words made it all worthwhile.

As the beautiful little girl sits chatting and giggling on her dad Martin's lap, it's an emotional moment for her mum, Hellen.

A few months earlier Bronte, now two, couldn't speak because of a pipe inserted into her throat to help her breathe. In a bid to communicate with their daughter, her parents taught her sign language.

Poor Bronte was so frustrated that she couldn't speak, she'd drag her parents into the kitchen to point to the drink that she wanted. They were desperate for things to improve and never gave up hope.

Hellen's waters had broken at 25 weeks pregnant with Bronte. She rushed to hospital with Martin, 41, an engineer, terrified that they'd lose the baby.

Bronte's older brother Noah was born with no problems eight months earlier at full term, so nothing had prepared them for this.

A scan showed the baby was fine although Hellen had lost all her waters and would have to stay in hospital to be monitored and given antibiotics.

Doctors reassured her that it'd be weeks before she gave birth but three days later she went into labour.

Seven hours after the first pains, Bronte was delivered and placed on Hellen's stomach.

"She was so tiny and I only had a minute to hold her before the doctors and midwives rushed her away," explains Hellen.

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Bronte weighed just 1lb, 12oz.

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Four days later Hellen, 41, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was discharged without even having a cuddle with her new little girl.

For the next 15 weeks, Bronte was switched between intensive care and special care wards. Distraught Hellen was told by three consultants that her little girl had just a 28 per cent chance of pulling through.

Brave Bronte can finally tell her parents she loves them: Doctors give premature girl a voice after years using sign languageWorldwide Features

But Bronte fought back and four months later, having put on weight, was allowed home to her family.

"It was amazing, we felt so lucky that our baby daughter seemed to have come through the worst," says Helen.

But late one evening when Bronte was five months old, she stopped breathing:

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One minute she was fine, then her chest was going ten to the dozen, then stopped. Martin picked her up and started blowing oxygen into her mouth, whilst I frantically dialled 999.

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Bronte had stopped taking in air because of a tight narrowing just below her vocal chords.

"They said the muscles in her throat had collapsed," explains Hellen. "They'd been weakened because she'd been attached to ventilators for long periods early in her life."

Bronte was given antibiotics then taken off the ventilator to see if she could breathe on her own - she couldn't. The only option was to give her a tracheotomy and fit a tube to help her breathe.

Doctors assured them that it wouldn't affect her speech, but Bronte seemed unable to make a noise.

"Whilst other parents were hearing their first 'mamma, dadda' speech, I couldn't. And getting out of the house with all of the breathing apparatus was tricky," says Hellen.

Brave Bronte can finally tell her parents she loves them: Doctors give premature girl a voice after years using sign languageWorldwide Features

Determined that their daughter should live a normal life as possible, Hellen and Martin started to teach Bronte to mouth words using a form of sign language:

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Noah and Bronte love watching the children's show Something Special where Mr. Tumble uses a form of signing, so we used it to communicate with Bronte. Even though she couldn't say things out loud, she could make her point.

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Later that year doctors suggested that as Bronte's throat muscles had become less restricted, that she undergo a new operation to help with her breathing.

If it worked, doctors would be able to remove her throat pipe altogether. So Bronte had the four hour operation at Sheffield Children's Hospital, where surgeons took cartilage from her ribs and attached it to her throat to give it more support.

Eight weeks later the tracheotomy was removed, enabling Bronte's throat to work properly so she could speak to her family:

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Bronte was so happy. She was sat on Martin's lap having a cuddle. Martin told her he loved her and she looked up and said 'I love you Daddy'.

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"That blew us away. Martin looked at me, we cried - it was the first time we'd ever heard her speak. It'd taken over two years, but those first words were worth the wait. It was beautiful.

"Bronte is still happy and healthy. She and Noah love reading stories out loud at bedtime and her surgeon is talking about sealing up the hole in her throat from the inside because she's doing so well.

"She can't wait as then she can try swimming. Now I sit for hours listening to her chatting - the difference in her is fantastic!"

What a brave, and beautiful little girl!

Good luck with your recovery, Bronte.

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