At 10 years old, Grace Yeats was a perfectly normal little girl. The New Zealand resident was happy, talkative, and outgoing, and when she came home early from school one day with cold-like symptoms, her parents, Stephen and Tracy Yeats, didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.
But after those symptoms worsened and Tracy took her daughter to the emergency room, doctors diagnosed Grace with severe basal ganglia necrosis, a rare brain disease that even the specialists struggled to understand.
Although the disease doesn’t affect Grace’s cognitive ability—she can still understand what’s going on around her—she could no longer speak or move on her own. Doctors have been working with her for nearly four years, and Grace requires round-the-clock care and medication to ease her pain and prevent spasms.
Tracy also set up a fundraising campaign to try to raise money for Grace’s medical treatments, which cost over $1,000 a month. So far nearly 2,000 strangers have donated over $31,000 to go toward her hospital bills.
Grace’s condition has been slowly improving over the years, and she can even go to school and do the things she loves, like swimming and listening to Taylor Swift, but recently her health took a dramatic turn for the worse.
She previously had a pump permanently placed in her stomach that releases sedatives to help with her constant pain, but she had to have emergency surgery after it unexpectedly broke down.
“That was a major step backwards, so it’s really mysterious,” Tracy told stuff.co.nz.
Despite the setback, though, Grace experienced a major breakthrough when she spoke for the first time in nearly four years. Her nurse was adjusting the tubes attached to her stomach and asked if she was okay. Grace was able to answer with a “yes.”
Her doctors and parents were equally stunned, and they were also overjoyed at the girl’s progress.
“I’ll admit it is miraculous. It’s very hard to explain. What’s miraculous about it is that for four years we’ve tried to get her to talk,” Stephen told the New Zealand Herald. “For nearly four years we have tried and tried and tried to get her to communicate with us because it’s just so important, especially in a situation like this.”
Grace has also been able to say “no,” “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you” to her parents, which was an emotional moment for everyone. She’s also working on reciting the alphabet, and her mother said Grace gets so happy and excited every time she makes it all the way through it.
Her doctors also aren’t exactly sure what caused the breakthrough, but they’re excited and hopeful that she will continue to improve.
“I don’t have a medical explanation,” her pediatrician, Andreas Leinfellner, told stuff.co.nz, “which I guess makes it a little miracle.”
Tracy also added that Grace still has a long road ahead of her. She continues to struggle with her speech, but everyone is hoping she’s on the road to recovery.
“It is amazing. That’s nearly four years of being completely mute and not being able to form a word and now she’s vocalizing,” her father said. “I just hope those connections in the brain that allow her to do that will allow her to do other things and say more.”