A special relationship between a severely disabled girl and horses is easing the girl’s pain and creating a prototype for the training of horses to help other children.
Georgia Tolley, 10, is the only person in the world with her pattern and sequence of chromosomes. Her cells delete a particular chromosome and duplicate another.
Leading geneticists at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital scoured the world and medical records for similar cases. They found 50 similar deletion cases but none had Georgia’s duplication as well.
“She’s the only one in the world,” said RCH geneticist Professor David Amor.
The unique condition limits Georgia’s sight, speech, hearing and movement. But she “lights up like a Christmas tree” when near horses.
The feeling is mutual. They’ll cross a paddock to be near her.
“She has such a peace about her that animals feel at ease, especially flight animals such as horses,” Georgia’s mum Stacey said. “They get responses from her we can’t, even when she’s really unwell.”
Georgia was born at Bendigo Hospital in central Victoria. Within days she was having strokes and seizures. She had four lifesaving brain surgeries in the first two weeks. She had many other operations and contracted meningitis and several other infections.
Doctors were amazed that she not only survived but went home at three months.
It was while sitting outside in her special wheelchair at the family’s Harcourt North property that Stacey noticed her horses going to Georgia.
“I was able to sit her on a pony. She loved lit. She lit up like a Christmas tree, the feeling of freedom and being able to move,” said Stacey.
Stacey and husband Darren have four other children, Jay, 16, Annaliese, 13, Isaiah, 9 and Alicia, 7. All are well and keen riders.
Bendigo paediatrician Dr Peter Wearne, who’s helped the family for years, said: “I didn’t think Georgia would survive the first few months let alone the first year. Even if I work another 50 years I don’t think I’ll ever see another child quite like Georgia.
“Her connection with horses is fascinating. There is good evidence that companion animals are important. They sense something in people and people sense something in them.
“We now allow dogs and companion animals in our children’s ward.”
Stacey, a volunteer with Riding for the Disabled, is planning a horse therapy service for children and young people with conditions like autism, anxiety and depression.
“I’ve learned from the best,” said Stacey. “Georgia has taught me so much, how to stay calm, be patient and take life one day at a time. This has helped prepare the horses.
“She’s the master. We’re the one’s catching up.
“She has blessed our lives.”
Equine therapy is not new. The ancient Greece physician Hippocrates (circa 400 BC) – regarded as a ‘Father Of Medicine’ – wrote about the value of riding and being around horses.
Equine therapy has helped with neurological conditions and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.