Charlotte’s story: Who needs words when you’ve got a smile like that?
By Ollie McAteer
Charlotte’s bedroom is doused in the girliest shade of purple. Twinkling fairy lights encase a TV at the end of a bed lined with teddy bears. Flowers and glitter dominate the four walls and a cherished letter from Prince Harry is framed above her pillow.
“There was just no other place she wanted that to go,” joked mum Karen Walker, who gave birth to her daughter at the young age of 17.
She touches a brand new pink-tinted wheelchair and smiles.
“Charlotte loved to show this off.”
It’s one of many physical aids in the room of her Rudgwick home which has been specially adapted for her unknown condition.
Baffled experts failed to diagnose Charlotte - who could not walk and didn’t speak a word throughout her entire life.
But despite her inability to talk, this defiant 13-year-old had the incredible power to light up so many lives.
“People feel as though they need to feel sorry for those with special needs,” said Karen with a frustrated tone.
“Whilst I can understand that, Charlotte never gave you an opportunity to feel sorry for her; who needs words when you’ve got a smile like that?”
She admits the odds were stacked against them from day one.
Karen, now 32, and Charlotte were confined to a hostel in Horsham subject to numerous police raids. And without a driving licence, the young mum relied on her family to help ferry them to and from the Dame Vera Lynn Trust (DVLT) School for Parents in Billingshurst.
She remembers feeling isolated, and explained that while other mums were taking their kids to nursery, she was attending physiotherapy classes.
“Don’t feel sorry for us,” she sternly pleads.
“I wasn’t going to let Charlotte having a disability define her or my family. We were always determined that Charlotte would experience all the fun of childhood, just like any other kid, we took her to theme parks and on rollercoasters - it’s true - she loved them.
“I think it’s a shame when parents with disabled children wrap them up and their entire life is so focused in that direction.”
It took the mum five years to come to terms with how her life was going to be - striking a good balance between Karen and carer.
Over time, and with help from the DVLT, Charlotte learnt to communicate using her hands and arms.
“She was entitled to be angry at the world, to be miserable and unhappy because she was aware of what she wasn’t able to do, but those feelings never seemed to manifest themselves.
“Her face had a way of expressing exactly what she was thinking. And I just found it incredible that someone who couldn’t talk had the capability of picking me up if I ever had a bad day.”
We’re all guilty of getting bogged down in life’s nitty-gritty. But Charlotte didn’t. She saw her short life as one big Disney fairytale.
Karen picks up a photo album and shows me evidence of Charlotte’s beaming smile. Her happy face leaps from every page.
She says life has changed forever.
Her daughter brought so much life,love and laughter into the home. But the way Charlotte dealt with everything life threw at her inspires the family to carry on and do something positive.
Karen smiled. Her pain is still visibly raw.
“I’m not looking at it through rose-tinted glasses, I think you need a bombshell like this to take stock and have some clarity in life.”
Charlotte Walker passed at the age of 13 on December 20 2012.
Thousands of pounds have been raised for the Dame Vera Lynn Trust in aid of Charlotte. For a chance to donate visit http://www.justgiving.com/Loyd-Harp