Aged two, Holly was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy, a condition characterised by involuntary body movements. She was, however, ‘intelligence intact’, as it is termed. The family home near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, was adapted around Holly’s needs.
Because she has no mental disabilities, Holly’s parents felt she should go to a mainstream school. She was enrolled at Hartford School in Huntingdon, where she is treated like everyone else except that she has a teaching assistant to help her.
Last year, Holly did a three-week ‘brain mapping’ course at a London-based clinic, during which a cap is placed on the patient’s head and sensors detect how the brain is working. A computer compares brain activity to goals or targets you wish to reach.
Sounds and images tell you when your brain has reached its goal and when it hasn’t. In this way, the user is said to learn how to quieten brainwaves associated with low performance and increase those associated with high function.
Holly also began, every other night, to receive treatment in a so-called ‘Mollii’ suit. The two-piece suit, rather like a wetsuit, gives mild electro-stimulation to target muscle groups, which is said to help relieve motor disabilities and aid muscle function.
She also takes anti-Parkinson’s medication to control dribbling.
Professor Noble says the fact that Holly is having more than one treatment makes it harder to pinpoint which is working best.
Following last October’s stem cell treatment, Fiona was advised to keep a diary of any differences she noticed in Holly.
‘In month one, I noticed how much better she was sleeping. She showed signs of wanting to be more mobile. For example, she wanted to walk from her bed to the loo, with us holding her up. She started saying the odd word.
‘At the end of the first month, she told me she could see better and we discovered through the eye test that her close-up vision was much sharper. Her concentration improved, too.
‘In the second month, more words started coming out. At the end of month three there have been other little things we’ve noticed. Cutting Holly’s nails can be a trial because Holly can’t keep her hands still, but Paul said it was the easiest it had ever been.
‘Her breathing has always been very fast and now she is starting to control it. She can open her mouth wider and put her tongue out, which she couldn’t before.’
In September, Holly will move on to secondary school.
‘When we decided to do the stem cell treatment, my imagination went on all sorts of flights of fancy,’ says Fiona. ‘I know we have to be realistic, but so many amazing things have happened. What we would love is for Holly to be able to learn how to speak fluently.
‘And who knows, it could happen — we’re just at the beginning of this adventure.’