When the story of little Noah O’Neale from Richwood who was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which left him blind, was shared with Tabletalk readers late last year, (“Noah survives life’s early storms,” Tabletalk, November 16), his journey touched the lives of those as far as the UK and soon the orchestration of a special holiday surprise for Noah was playing out.
Little Noah, who was born at 26 weeks, on August 24 2014 weighing no more than 1660g, and struggled to survive early on in life. But through the love of his adoptive parents, Bernadette O’Neale and her partner Rouan Verwey, Noah has overcome many obstacles.
ROP, which is caused by abnormal development of retinal blood vessels in premature infants, left Noah legally blind and without light perception. This created a challenge with Noah’s education and the family mentioned that they hoped to acquire the use of a smart cane to lessen Noah’s struggles.
Richwood Neighbourhood Watch (RNW) members arranged a dance fundraiser to help raise money for the cane, which costs between R12 000 and R15 000. The RNW managed to raise R9 000 which was presented to the family (“Richwood gives Noah a hands up,” Tabletalk, December 7).
However, it did not stop there. A family in Port Elizabeth heard about Noah’s story and contacted the Caterpillar footwear company in London to help Noah and his family get their Christmas wish for the cane.
Terri-Lee Speirs, manager at Medicus shoes in PE, and Caterpillar footware in London arranged to each contribute half of the funds needed for the cane, which was raised through funding and brought to South Africa, along with other gifts which Noah and his family were surprised with on Thursday December 22. Tears flowed as Ms O’Neale gasped at the display she had been brought to at Espana in Burgundy Estate as members of the Caterpillar London store, Ms Speirs and the RNW members stood around the smart cane presented for Noah.
She expressed her gratitude to those who had made her son’s life that much easier, by providing him with the cane.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I am going to cry about nine times more today. It’s been a journey, I can’t tell you what I was expecting today,” said Ms O’Neale.
The smart cane helps increase obstacle awareness and relays information to users by vibrating and transmitting sound signals.
Ms Speirs, who arranged for sponsors in London to help Noah and his family, said she heard about his story when her mother came to Cape Town and brought home a copy of the article for her to read.
“What caught my attention is that Noah fitted into a Caterpillar shoe. The reason for this catching my attention is that the company I work for is the sole distributers of Caterpillar Footwear in SA. I discussed the article with my boss David Palmer and we embarked on the journey to try and make Noah’s wish for the Ultra Cane a reality.”
“We contact the Caterpillar Footwear Team in the London office and received an amazing response. They auctioned themselves off to raise the funds needed to purchase the cane with Medicus Shoes.
“They have played such a big role on making it possible for him to take his first independent steps in a world that already has so many challenges,” said Ms Speirs.
RNW chairman, Grant Ferreira said the watch was ecstatic to see businesses step up and get involved in a small community such as Richwood, adding that it was fantastic how the story played out.
“I was gobsmacked when I heard about it and for a brand like Cat to single out a single boy, it’s incredible. Everyone has been good at helping where they can,” said Mr Ferreira.