DES MOINES, Iowa - A special device used by an 8-year-old Iowa boy to communicate with others was recently stolen, along with a brace he uses to walk, and his family is pleading for whomever took the indispensable items to return them.
Kylar Mills relies on his communication device, which the family calls a "talker," to speak to those around him.
His mother, Cassie Thayer, recently posted on Facebook about a theft out of the family's van on June 7. She said after they returned home around 5 p.m., they found that someone had stolen Kylar's backpack and got away with a change of clothes, his short ankle-foot orthosis (or a brace he uses to stabilize his legs), and most importantly, his means to communicate.
"They stole HIS voice," Thayer wrote in a Facebook post.
Thayer said her son takes time to get used to new things, and he had just learned to utilize the talker when it was stolen.
"Without it he has a hard time communicating," she explained. "The talker allows him to pull words that he cannot locate in his brain, using the pictures to find them which allows him the use of meaningful speech rather than just saying anything that pops into his head in a particular moment."
Thayer said her son was born prematurely at 29 weeks. During the eight weeks he spent in the hospital, he began having seizures.
Doctors performed an MRI, and Kylar was diagnosed with hemimegalencephaly, a rare neurological condition that causes one side of the brain to grow faster than the other -- in his case, the right side -- and the entirety of the brain to be malformed.
At just 14 months old, doctors removed a large portion of the brain and disconnected the entire right side due to the number of seizures he was having. Thayer said at this point, "it was life or death" for her son.
Kylar, now 8, has little to no functional use of his left arm and hand, and his left leg remains weaker as well. His mother said he underwent a second surgery in 2014 and has been seizure-free for close to a year, but also relies on his special device to communicate meaningfully.
Thayer said the family is not looking for money, and it's important for them to find the stolen device instead of purchasing a new one because they have spent the past year customizing it to Kylar's specific speech.
"We have added pictures and words that are meaningful to Kylar in his everyday life," she said. "A new talker would not come programmed with any of the new information we have added. It can take time for Kylar to re-learn a whole new device, as well."
The "talker," which looks like a tablet, is made by the company Accent and is in a blue case.
"The communication devices themselves can cost thousands of dollars, not including the cost of the other devices that were stolen," Thayer said.
With Kylar's ankle-foot braces gone, or AFOs, Thayer said her son is unsteady and it can cause "a huge deficit" in his development.
"He gets tired very easily and this causes more risk of falling," his mother explained. "We have made huge strides the past year in being able to walk hand in hand versus only in his walker, and we are unable to keep up that progress now that his AFO's are gone."
Thayer said the family has been in communication with a representative from the device manufacturer and is hopeful insurance will cover the expenses.
Anyone who finds the items or knows of their whereabouts was asked to contact the Des Moines Police Department. Thayer said they can also contact her on Facebook with any information.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.