Be­hind the photo: how olly gave my lit­tle boy a voice

Jemma Smed­ley, 39, was told her son couldn’t speak – but a mir­a­cle hap­pened

Woman's Own - - Woman’s Own Welcome -

My son Wil­liam was just nine months old when strange things started to hap­pen.

When I picked him up, his whole body would stiffen. His eyes flick­ered, and he couldn’t sit up or smile.

‘Some­thing’s not right,’ I said to my hus­band Richard, then 30.

Our GP re­ferred us to a specialist at Derby Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, and the next day, in Septem­ber 2006, he was put on an EEG ma­chine, mon­i­tor­ing elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in his brain.

Ter­ri­fy­ing di­ag­no­sis

See­ing my baby hooked to wires was ter­ri­fy­ing. Within half an hour, they’d recorded Wil­liam hav­ing 17 seizures.

Tests re­vealed he had se­vere epilepsy. ‘Wil­liam may never walk or talk,’ the doc­tor ex­plained. I couldn’t be­lieve what I was hear­ing.

Richard and I sat, dev­as­tated, as we tried to come to terms with what we’d been told. ‘We have to do what­ever we can to help him,’ I said.

He had phys­io­ther­apy and speech ther­apy. But Wil­liam didn’t start tod­dling un­til he was two and a half – and aged four, all he could do was mum­ble. He wasn’t form­ing words, but we came to un­der­stand him.

Wil­liam’s older sis­ter Leah had been di­ag­nosed with autism and ADHD, so we knew about the warn­ing signs and weren’t sur­prised when, aged five, Wil­liam was di­ag­nosed with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and autism. Still, it didn’t seem pos­si­ble he could face any more. The life we had hoped for him just seemed to van­ish into thin air.

He was on med­i­ca­tion to con­trol his seizures. And aged seven, he started at a school for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

One night in 2014, I went to an Olly Murs con­cert in Sh­effield. He was great and I bought the al­bum to play in the car. Wil­liam loved mu­sic, and al­though he couldn’t sing the lyrics, he’d kick his legs to the beat. Soon, I was play­ing the al­bum ev­ery jour­ney be­cause he en­joyed it so much.

That Au­gust, Richard and I were tak­ing Wil­liam to visit my par­ents in York­shire. For once we didn’t have any mu­sic on, but sud­denly, from the back of the car, we heard Wil­liam clearly shout, ‘Ba­con and eggs.’

Richard and I looked at each other, shocked. It was the first time we’d ever heard him say co­her­ent words.

‘Clever boy,’ I gasped, not even think­ing why he was say­ing such ran­dom words. But then it came to me. There was a track on my Olly Murs al­bum called Busy that men­tioned ba­con and eggs. ‘He’s ask­ing us to play the song,’ I said, click­ing on the CD, and Wil­liam started jig­ging about.

‘Olly has taught our son how to speak,’ I laughed.

Richard and I bought him all of Olly’s al­bums and we’d watch his videos on­line to­gether. Wil­liam started copy­ing Olly’s dance moves, even wear­ing a trilby hat like the pop star as he span round the room. For a lit­tle boy who couldn’t bal­ance six months ear­lier, it was an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment. We used the songs in his speech ther­apy, which was so suc­cess­ful he started hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with us. He even won the school tal­ent com­pe­ti­tion, where he sang Dear Dar­lin’, an­other song of Olly’s. In May this year, Wil­liam, now 12, fi­nally had the chance to meet the man him­self. We booked tick­ets for his con­cert at the Mo­tor­point Arena in Not­ting­ham and ar­rived at 9am in the hope of meet­ing Wil­liam’s idol. Af­ter four hours of wait­ing by the back­stage door, a van pulled up and Olly emerged. He came over and gave Wil­liam a huge hug. See­ing the look on my son’s face was so over­whelm­ing, I burst into tears. ‘Thank you for your mu­sic. He learned to talk be­cause of you!’ I cried. I don’t think he could truly un­der­stand just how grate­ful I was, but his songs had changed Wil­liam’s life – and ours too. Wil­liam might not have the fu­ture we dreamt of for him, but thanks to Olly, it’s look­ing a whole lot brighter.

‘Wil­liam even won the school tal­ent com­pe­ti­tion!’

Wil­liam was so ex­cited to meet his idol Olly

The mu­sic has changed Wil­liam and Jemma’s lives

Wil­liam hav­ing more EEG tests

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