"Living Paintings helped me bring the world to two little girls who couldn't experience it for themselves anymore" - QTVI Heather's story - Living Paintings

Living Paintings

“Living Paintings helped me bring the world to two little girls who couldn’t experience it for themselves anymore” – QTVI Heather’s story

12th March 2024

Heather, a QTVI, is smiling against a plain wall.

Bringing the outside world in isn’t easy. But to terminally ill children, it can be vital to their happiness and can bring joy into their final days.

Heather Wilkinson is a Qualified Teacher of Young People with Vision Impairment (QTVI). Her work involves supporting families and children who are visually impaired. Living Paintings books have become an important resource for Heather when working with children to bring stories to life, to help with school projects and, sometimes, to bring the outside world in.

For two little girls in particular, it became a way for them to experience the things they loved the only way they could. “I was introduced to two lovely sisters – aged 6 and 8 – who were unfortunately diagnosed with a terminal illness,” says Heather.

“I’m forever indebted to Living Paintings as they were so supportive from the very beginning. I remember phoning once to let them know that the younger girl had taken a turn for the worst but really loved unicorns and new books arrived with the ink almost still wet – that’s how fast they would work to get the books to these little girls. It’s like they worked through the night to deliver them as fast as possible.”

The girls’ illness involved a gradual decline of their health and Heather was aware that they would eventually lose their eyesight.

“When I first met the girls, the younger one was still able to see and listen and touch and she loved the Living Paintings’ books from the beginning – her face used to light up when she saw them and it was magical to see as she’d lost touch with the outside world,” she says.

“I could use the audio with the books to begin with. The girls were confined to their home and so these books were the only way to bring the outside world to them and this was vital to their happiness for the remainder of their short lives.”

As the girls’ health declined, Heather was able to use the raised tactile pictures in the books to allow them to follow along with the stories and help them see things in their mind that they could no longer see with their eyes.

“The girls used to laugh and loved being able to feel the stories. They both loved nature and so I asked Living Paintings for books on the subject,” Heather says.

“There was one in particular called A Rainy Day by Anna Milbourne which was about a duckling that goes splashing through rain puddles. When the younger girl had some vision, she used to love the bright yellow in the book and then she moved on to the tactile pictures. Eventually, she couldn’t do that either and so I used to splash her with water and quack which she thought was funny.”

A tactile illustration from the Living Paintings version of One Year with Kipper - featuring autumn leaves and pumpkins

Tragically, both girls succumbed to their illness but Heather, along with the girls’ parents, credit Living Paintings for bringing joy into their lives in their final days and bringing the world to them.

“When the older sister passed away, the younger one was hanging on. She loved the seaside and so I asked Living Paintings for books on beaches and they sent me all they had. I brought them along with some shells and sand so she could experience a bit of summer from her bed,” says Heather.

“I had planned the same for Autumn when the seasons changed and I showed up on the doorstep with an arm full of books, leaves and pumpkins only to be told that she had just passed away. The parents were devastated but I could see a bit of joy in their faces when they saw the books. The parents associated the books with the last few months of their girls being happy, and they hold special memories for them.”

For Heather, having a resource that allowed her to match the interests of the little girls with something they could enjoy as their health and eyesight deteriorated, was crucial. The speed and efficiency of the charity was also so important to make sure that no moment was wasted when dealing with terminally ill children.

A tactile illustration from the Living Paintings version of The Very Hungry Catterpillar

“Helpful isn’t the right word to describe Living Paintings,” says Heather. “Nothing was ever too much trouble, they always responded immediately and they gave those girls something that money can’t buy – a connection to their old lives. The girls so looked forward to my visits because of the books and that gave them some normality which really helped their parents too.”

Heather and her colleagues use the service for lots of other children who are visually impaired. “It’s not just story books but we also use Living Paintings for school topics,” says Heather. “My colleague works with a very clever little boy who is completely blind and they have provided course work books for him to help with his studies. We also use the books on babies and toddlers and parents are always so thrilled to see their child enjoy a popular book such as The Hungry Caterpillar, just like other children.”

Heather is forever grateful to the support she received when working with the sisters.

“Because of Living Paintings, I was able to bring the world to two little girls who couldn’t experience it for themselves anymore,” she says. “Bringing joy to them in their final months is something that I know their parents will never forget and I’ll never forget the excitement on their faces when I showed up with new books to explore. It was so special.”

A mobile phone sitting on a wooden table top and wrapped in earphones displays the Living Paintings website.


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