Julian and Tracy Austwick had resigned themselves to the idea that they may never hear their little girl speak. Amber and her sister, Hope were born at 26 weeks. Hope managed to thrive, but Amber struggled. She underwent an emergency tracheostomy to help her breath and was later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsey. Doctors told the Austwicks that she would probably never walk, and the placement of the breathing tube meant talking was also unlikely.
Amber attended several therapy programs, but nothing compared to the miraculous results that occurred when she met Shocks the donkey!
Her parents took her to The Donkey Sanctuary in Birmingham, UK - a unique organization that rescues and rehomes animals in need and offers donkey-assisted therapy to children.
Amber was paired with Shocks, a donkey who had been rescued from severe abuse on an Irish farm in 2010. Shocks was near death, but like Amber, he was a fighter.
“I remember walking in and seeing Shocks, a massive black donkey who looked angry,” Tracy told Birmingham Mail. “But Amber fell in love with him. She cuddled his nose – it was like they made friends straight away. A member of staff put her on his back and she stroked his neck, which was badly scarred from where he’d been mistreated. I thought he might bolt and run off but he just stood there and let Amber cuddle him."
The little girl began riding Shocks regularly, and soon her muscles began to develop beyond what her doctors had thought possible. Amber even took her very first steps!
Not only did Shocks help Amber walk, he also encouraged her to find her voice. The tracheostomy in her neck meant that air never passed through her voicebox. The Austwicks had never so much as heard their daughter utter a single cry.
One day, Julian tried covering up the tracheostomy with his fingers and sang Amber a song - to the family's amazement, Amber laughed out loud, showing that the surgeries had not damaged her vocal cords! On the advice of a speech therapist, they got Amber a speaking valve.
“She started talking to Shocks in her own language,” says Tracy.“We couldn’t really understand what she was saying but it was her way of talking."
During a visit with Shocks, Amber stunned her family once again when she uttered her very first words. Tracy asked her if she loved her donkey, and incredibly, Amber responded "Love Shocks." Soon after, she clearly said "I love you, Shocky!"
In 2012 Shocks was honored with an animal bravery award for his work with Amber. Their story inspired a book called Amber’s Donkey, published in 2015.
When asked about the beautiful relationship between her daughter and Shocks, Tracy summed it up beautifully:
"They had a real trust between them right from the start. It was as if they understood each other’s pain. Like two broken beings, helping each other."
H/T to Birmingham Mail
Featured Image via Facebook/Amber's Donkey