LILY Bartlett has always had the odds stacked against her.
Born prematurely at 24 weeks, she was almost completely blind and weighed little more than a bag of sugar.
She spent the first 10 months of her life in hospitals undergoing various tests and treatments before being placed in foster care.
After losing her sight completely aged just five, health officials warned she would never be able to speak and would require care for the rest of her life.
But now, 13-year-old, Lily from Woodley is getting ready to share a stage with former Coronation Street and West End star Wendi Peters.
She will perform the carol, Little Drummer Boy at the Guide Dogs’ inaugural Christmas Wishes Concert at Coventry Cathedral.
When she stands under the spotlight on Monday, December 17 in front of a huge audience, it will be a testimony to her courage, determination and sheer musical talent which have overcome even the most pessimistic forecasts for this remarkable teenager.
Standing in the wings on the night and trying to hold back a tear, will be Lily’s mum, Jane, as well as her beloved guide dog, Hunter.
Jane adopted Lily when she was 21-months-old. It was her second adopted child, as she already had a 10-year-old son, Shane, living with cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.
“At first Lily wasn’t very engaged at all,” explained Jane.
“It wasn’t just her sight loss. It was the fact she was still being fed by a tube and was extremely small for her age.
“Despite her challenging start to life, I remember there was just something special about her.”
Jane struggled with the verdict of healthcare professionals made about Lily’s potential.
The speech and language therapist warned Lily would never learn to speak and that Jane would just have to accept this.
But the determined mum would not let other people decide Lily’s future and she made sure the family continually spoke to Lily, explaining everything around her and letting her experience as much as possible.
“As a baby, Lily loved nursery rhymes being sung to her and she turned everyday items into musical instruments. This included tapping pots and pans and rattling frozen peas in empty Actimel bottles.
“When Lily was about two-and-a-half, I bought her a toy keyboard. Before I knew it, Lily was playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. It took a while for me to realise it was Lily playing and not the demo button on the keyboard.
“Lily began to use music to express herself as she was not yet able to form the words. She would hum Round and Round the Garden Like a Teddy Bear, if she wanted to go into the garden and‘London Bridge is Falling Down, if she’d hurt herself or Mary Had a Little Lamb when she was on her way to school.”
When asked how she was able to learn chords and verses without sight, Lily explains: “It is always music first and words second.”
The teenager has an amazing audio graphic memory. She can listen to a few times then be able to play the chords and recite the lyrics off by heart. It took Lily just four hours to learn lyrics to a Latin song her choir was singing.
Five years ago, Jane applied to Guide Dogs for her own Buddy dog but she was told there was a two year waiting list.
When Lily was finally matched with Hunter, she was besotted and they soon became inseparable.
“Hunter goes everywhere with Lily,” added Jane.
“He walks with her to school, goes to her swimming lessons, choir practice, out to dinner and even on holidays with the family.
“Lily used to always hold my hand and have her cane in the other. Now she holds her cane with one hand and Hunter’s harness with the other.
“I do miss holding my little girl’s hand but nothing beats seeing Lily’s confidence, independence and mobility grow.
“I couldn’t imagine life without Hunter.”
And as she prepares for her big debut singing live at Coventry Cathedral, Lily says she is “really excited.”
“I am going to sing with Wendi Peters,” she exclaims.
“I am really looking forward to it. As long as I have Hunter, my music and a Sat Nav, I’ll be able to get through anything in life.”