‘I have not seen my daugh­ter smile since I went blind, but a sixth sense helps me watch her grow up’

Mum’s rare con­di­tion lets her ‘see’

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - EXCLUSIVE - By Janet Boyle [email protected]­day­post.com

AN amaz­ing mum is able to see and make sense of the world around her – de­spite be­ing com­pletely blind.

Melina Can­ning has been di­ag­nosed with a very rare con­di­tion termed blind­sight, which af­fects only a hand­ful of peo­ple in the world.

Melina’s eyes work but the part of the brain that pro­cesses vis­ual stim­uli was ir­repara­bly dam­aged af­ter she suf­fered a stroke 20 years ago, plung­ing her into a world of dark­ness.

But, grad­u­ally, she’s de­vel­oped the sixth sense of blind­sight, which sci­en­tists think hap­pens as a re­sult of the brain try­ing to re­pair it­self.

It means Melina can sense the out­line of sim­ple shapes, such as the shape of her daugh­ter’s pony­tail, or fall­ing rain, but with­out de­tail, like a con­stant sil­hou­ette pup­pet show.

The in­cred­i­ble de­vel­op­ment has also plunged Melina into the world of high level med­i­cal re­search.

Be­cause so lit­tle is known about the con­di­tion, she plays host to a pro­ces­sion of em­i­nent doc­tors and sci­en­tists keen to un­lock the secrets of blind­sight, and what it can tell them about how our brains re­ally work.

The 47 year old told The Sun­day Post: “At first peo­ple in­sisted I was just imag­in­ing it – so I’m so thank­ful for the di­ag­no­sis.”

Melina, mar­ried to hus­band Colin, suf­fered a stroke in her late 20s when daugh­ter Stephanie was just two years old.

The at­tack was ex­tremely se­vere, nearly killing her, and de­stroyed the part of her brain that gov­erns sight. Shee spent weeks hooked up to a life sup­port ma­chine.

Then, a few months into her hos­pi­tal stay, some­thing very un­usual be­gan to hap­pen.

Melina started to be­come aware of the world around her, and thought her sight was re­turn­ing.

“Dur­ing my four- month stay in hos­pi­tal my mum An­gela brought in a wed­ding an­niver­sary present in a bright, green gift bag,” she said.

“I could see it on the bed­side ta­ble and asked what was in the green bag.

“Ev­ery­one was stunned and I called out for the doc­tors.

“They in­sisted I was imag­in­ing it and had guessed the colour. They were adamant I couldn’t see. I couldn’t con­vince them and felt so an­gry I wasn’t be­ing be­lieved.

“I could also see the out­line of peo­ple and move­ment but not their faces or ex­pres­sions.

“Desperate to prove this, I asked my fam­ily to get my boss to come in to see me as soon as she could.

“I worked as a med­i­cal sec­re­tary for an eye spe­cial­ist and knew she would help.

“She ex­am­ined me and re­ferred me to Pro­fes­sor Gordon Dut­ton, a lead­ing spe­cial­ist at Glas­gow’s Gart­navel Hos­pi­tal.

“He di­ag­nosed blind­sight which few un­sighted peo­ple de­velop to de­velop an­other way of see­ing.

“He then asked if I could travel to

Canada to un­dergo re­search with world-lead­ing sci­en­tists.”

Doc­tors have since es­tab­lished Melina is one of the few peo­ple in the world with blind­sight.

Other cases have been recorded in Italy and the United States.

For Melina, it has en­abled her to con­tinue to make sense of the world around her.

No­tably, it “clicked into gear” about eight months af­ter her stroke, when she was bathing Stephanie.

She could make out the shape of the wa­ter splash­ing around.

“From that time I be­gan to see things such as rain fall­ing and cof­fee mov­ing in a cup,” she added.

“But I have not seen my daugh­ter smile since she was a baby and that is so up­set­ting at times. I just can’t see faces.

“I can see if she has her hair in a pony­tail be­cause it moves when she walks.

“Then I re­mem­ber that I am lucky to be alive and here to be able to watch her grow up.”

Melina has been flown to world lead­ing ex­perts in Canada three times and Maas­tricht in Hol­land once, where ex­perts use scan­ners to examine ac­tiv­ity in her brain.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the tests she un­der­goes in­volve Melina be­ing shown im­ages of dif­fer­ent shapes on a screen while sci­en­tists examine her brain’s re­sponse .

Next week, Cana­dian re­searchers will visit her home in Wishaw, La­nark­shire, to con­tinue their re­search.

She will also ap­pear in a sci­en­tific re­search pa­per due to be pub­lished shortly.

In the mean­time she’s just thank­ful her blind­sight is ac­knowl­edged by the wider sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, while she per­son­ally con­tin­ues to be amazed by the way her brain is help­ing her to see.

“I am hugely grate­ful for the di­ag­no­sis be­cause no one ini­tially be­lieved that I could see the world around me while be­ing blind,” she said.

“I won­der how many oth­ers have blind­sight but won’t be taken se­ri­ously?”

Melina hasn’t prop­erly seen Stephanie’s face for 20 years.

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