A youngster has found his voice after complex surgery allowed him to breathe unaided for the first time in four years.
Lyall Cookward’s first word on waking up from the operation was “mummy” – which he has never been able to say before.
Now the four-year-old is benefitting more than anyone imagined from the life-changing procedure to remove the tracheostomy he relied on to breathe.
It’s the latest triumph for the youngster who has defied experts as he battled with serious health problems all his life.
His mum Steph Ward, from Chapel Allerton, Leeds, said: “It’s amazing.
“When they told us he was now breathing, we just didn’t know what to say.”
Lyall, who has Down syndrome, suffered heart failure soon after birth and needed a risky operation, followed by more surgery.
Later he was diagnosed with a rare lung condition and spent six months in intensive care. After returning home, he was expected to be on a ventilator long-term, possibly for life.
But he came off the machine, though he relied on the tracheostomy – an opening in his windpipe – to breathe.
His airway had collapsed but Lyall’s surgeon earlier this year said he could carry out a full reconstruction.
Steph and her partner Sharron Cook agonised about whether he should have the risky surgery, which involved grafting a piece of cartilage from Lyall’s rib onto his airway to strengthen it.
They decided to go ahead and he underwent the operation at Leeds General Infirmary last month.
Afterwards he had to be sedated in intensive care for several days to allow the graft to heal, and complications set in which delayed his recovery.
But when surgeons eventually were able to bring him round, he began breathing for himself.
“The first thing he said when he woke up was ‘mummy’,” Sharron said.
“There were a lot of tears.”
While in hospital, medical staff from throughout his life saw him and many were left emotional by his progress – which his mums said was very touching.
One told them: “It’s more than was ever imaginable.”
Now Lyall can form many words and sounds he couldn’t before, is giggling and shouting, and enjoying the freedom he has never had.
He can go out for a walk with just his grandparents or his older brother Max, while eldest brother Dan is looking forward to babysitting for him.
“He can be more free,” Steph said.
“He can be upstairs playing with his friends or brothers while we are downstairs. We’ve never been able to do that before – and that’s massive.”
His family said they were “indebted” to LGI for all they have done for Lyall and now they have set up a fundraising drive to help other children like him.
They want to buy resources for the wards which use Makaton, a simple sign language which Lyall uses, so they can better communicate with young patients.
And they hope to enable frontline staff to learn a few basic signs which could make hospital less stressful for youngsters.
“We want to make a difference for kids like him who are coming through, it would be great,” Sharron said.
Lyall will take part in the Jane Tomlinson Appeal Mini Run on May 11, while his 5th birthday will be celebrated by a fundraising party on June 6 at Moor Allerton Sports and Social Club, with an appearance from signing group singing hands.
To donate, log on to www.justgiving.com/raiseasmileforlyall