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Devon teenager Hannah Antonio has the opportunity to be able to communicate with the world around her for the first time – but she needs your help to do that.

Hannah, aged 17, has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, scoliosis and is unable to talk. Dad Mike Antonio said: “When Hannah was younger we thought that mobility was the most important issue, but as she has got older we have realised that it is her ability – or rather lack of it – to communicate with the outside world that shapes her life. As her family we can understand 60 per cent of what she is trying to get over, but this still causes her a lot of frustration. For friends and strangers it is much harder, if not impossible. That’s why a hi-tech communication aid would open up so many new possibilities for Hannah.”

A pupil at the Dame Hannah Rogers School in Devon, Hannah has been given the chance to try out a suitable communication aid – but that trial period is coming to an end. Mike said: “Hannah is excelling, using this communication aid – almost surpassing the aspirations we have for her. It has even enabled her to demonstrate for the first time that she has a sense of humour.

“It is releasing her frustration and we can see a marked effect on her behaviour – and those with whom she is communicating. People no longer talk about Hannah – they talk directly to her.

“We have realised for the first time that she has views and ideas and knows exactly what she wants to do – we are beginning to see her real personality.”

The trial communication aid has also helped build family bonds. Mike – a Special Constable said: “Her 14-year-old brother has always thought of Hannah as a bit of a pain, someone who takes up so much of the family’s time. Using the aid Hannah has been able to tell him that, actually, he is her favourite and that she loves him; their relationship has now changed dramatically and they talk all the time.”

The communication aid that Hannah needs on a permanent basis costs £5,117, so the Antonio family turned to leadingUKchildren’s disability charity Newlife Foundation for help with funding.

Newlife CEO Sheila Brown said: “Equipment ‘enables’. It can mean the difference between comfort and pain, engagement or isolation, freedom or a worsening condition. Therefore, our equipment grants are vital to so many children, offering practical support to families. Equipment can range from pain-relieving beds and wheelchairs to specialist seating and communication aids like this one for Hannah.  Equipment costing from hundreds to several thousands of pounds really can revolutionise a child’s life.”

Newlife has awarded £250,653 in equipment grants to 112 children across Devon. But the charity is experiencing hugely increased demands on its resources; calls to the Newlife Nurse Helpline – 0800 902 0095 – have shot up by 70 per cent. This is an average of 300 calls a week, with thousands more hits on the charity’s website

“Because of the huge demand,” said Sheila, “we are calling on ‘local heroes’ to help us raise money to fund equipment inDevon. Newlife guarantees that 100 per cent of any gift or donation will go directly to support disabled children in the county.”

If you think you can help, the Newlife Community Fundraising Team can be contacted on freephone 0800 988 4640. Any individual or organisation thinking of running a fundraising event is asked to contact the team, who can offer support and guidance.

Any money raised in excess of Hannah’s needs will be used to help other disabled and terminally ill children in Devon.

Pictured: Hannah, aged 17

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