Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Sight to behold

Dakota Clarke in China
Dakota Clarke in China

By John McGurk

It's the beautiful day a local mum and dad only dared to dream about before — their little blind daughter being able to SEE.

Remarkable Dakota Clarke has emerged from a lifetime of darkness and is stepping into the light of a new life of sight

There were tears of happiness and jumps for joy, as the loveable Newtownabbey girl stunned staff at a hospital in China, by seeing around two feet in front of her — for the first time.

Dakota, who will celebrate her third birthday on April, was born with an ultra rare brain condition, called Septo-optic Dysplasia, which caused blindness and a number of other serious problems, including hormone deficiencies and low muscle tone.

Last March, Sunday Life helped to launch devoted parents, Wilma and Darren Clarke’s campaign to raise £30,000 for revolutionary stem cell treatment in China — in a bid to help give her some sight. Big hearted Sunday Life readers responded in their droves to donate cash. And, along with help from family and friends in a series of fundraising events, the magical £30,000 figure was reached.

Earlier this month, the Clarkes flew out to Qingdao People’s Hospital in eastern China. Dakota started a course of injections, each containing 10-15 million stem cells from the blood of umbilical cords.

Last week, the Clarkes were delighted when their beautiful blonde haired daughter showed signs of reacting to light and focusing better than before.

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But absolutely nothing could have prepared them for the extraordinary leap into the light which Dakota made last

Monday. Ecstatic dad, Darren told Sunday Life: “We had started to notice, after the second injection, that she was able to focus, if we held a finger out to her.

“We were thrilled. But we didn’t dare to be over confident. We have always been cautious and not have great expectations.

“Then, last Monday, the doctors came in to see her. We mentioned to them that we thought that there had already been a noticeable improvement. But they were adamant that it would be too early.

“One of the doctors held up Wilma’s hairbrush about two feet away from her face. Straight away, Dakota said ‘brush’ and then grabbed it!”

Darren said that Dakota’s new found vision had left him “totally gobsmacked, happy and excited”.

Added the dad-of-two: “The doctors came back the next day again. Wilma moved her finger around and Cody’s eyes followed it. Then she did the same with Cody’s dummy and then her teddy bear and she followed them all — just like a normal child, with normal sight.”

Last Wednesday night, Dakota amazed her mum and dad again — deciphering

lights, in the distance. Revealed Darren: “We were going into Qingdao city for dinner. On the right hand side of the motorway, there is a big Olympic park with an Olympic ring sign lit up.

“As we were driving past it, Cody suddenly piped up ‘oh, look at those lovely lights’. I was so stunned that all I could say was ‘what did she just say?’

“It has been incredible.”

The doting dad, who gave up his job, to become a full-time carer, with his wife, Wilma said that it was “really hard to put into words” how he felt after witnessing the dramatic improvement in Dakota’s condition following the treatment.

Said Darren: “We are still trying to get our heads around the fact that Dakota can actually see something for the first time in the three years of her life. It makes all of the effort worthwhile. Even if things just stay the way that they are now and her condition does not improve any more, we would still be absolutely delighted.

“This experience has been like other parents seeing their child taking their first steps or hearing their first words.

“It’s been that special kind of feeling — only far better!”

The three stem cell injections have also had a positive effect on Dakota’s stomach and constipation problems.

She is due to have another three intravenously administered treatments. But, sadly it seems as if she will not have a seventh injection, as the money cannot be raised to cover its additional cost.

Mum, Wilma admitted that she shed tears of happiness after Dakota was able to see her face for the first time.

Said Wilma: “When she saw the brush and grabbed it, I jumped up and the doctor even jumped up.

“There are just no words which can adequately describe how I feel. We didn’t dare have our hopes built up. We also had to be prepared in case the treatment didn’t work. But after what happened, I shed a few tears, I can tell you. They were tears of joy, most definitely.

“Maybe from now on, she will not be bumping into things and hurting herself — stuff that broke my heart to see. That is all I ever wanted.”

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