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Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Monday, 2 March 2009

Parrots help owner to talk again

By Nikki Jecks
BBC World Service

FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE
Brian Wilson and parrot

A former US fireman who lost the ability to walk and talk after a car crash has been rehabilitated with the help of his two pet parrots.

Brian Wilson suffered serious brain injuries after the 1995 accident that left him paralyzed down one side of his body.

Medical experts told the retired fireman from Maryland that he would probably spend the rest of his days in a nursing home, bedridden and with language skills not much more advanced than that of a small child.

"I couldn't get off the sofa without help, and I couldn't get out of bed without help because my whole right side was paralysed," Mr Wilson recalls.

However, he confounded medical experts by rehabilitating his speech with the help of his pet parrots, Daisy and Rosebud.

"I could speak like a one-year old, I could goo-goo gaa-gaa," says Mr Wilson of his speech when he first returned home from hospital.

Feathered friends

It was his urge to communicate with Daisy and Rosebud, two of the birds who had been with him in the car when he had the accident, that was a driving force in his rehabilitation.

I would sit there for hours...and try to talk to them, and all of a sudden, one word a day would pop out of my mouth
Brian Wilson

Sadly, a third pet parrot, Rocco died in the accident.

"Once I got back to my townhouse after four months of rehab I wanted to see my babies, the birds that were in the car with me," he says.

"I just wanted to hear them talk."

And that he did. Mr Wilson says Daisy and Rosebud went crazy when they heard his voice.

"Rosebud was the one that never stopped talking. She just talked and talked when she heard my voice. She wanted me to love her, to hug her."

It was that devotion and need for attention from his birds that Mr Wilson credits with bringing him back from the brink.

"I would sit there for hours and just listen to them and try to talk to them, and all of a sudden, one word a day would pop out of my mouth and then it caused two or three other words to come out of my mouth each time," he says.

Mr Wilson said it took three to four months before people could understand him and he could put sentences together, but eventually his speech improved.

Now, the trauma of his accident is barely audible in his voice, and he is also able to walk unassisted.

To show his gratitude, Mr Wilson has decided to devote his life to birds whose owners are no longer able or want to keep them.

Bird refuge

He has turned his home into a refuge for abandoned or mistreated birds, and is currently looking after more than 70 including macaws, cockatoos, African greys and other parrots.

Volunteer and parrots
Volunteers help Brian Wilson run his bird refuge

But as the credit crunch bites, Mr Wilson is finding the cost of looking after an ever-increasing number of birds beyond the limits of his pension.

So he has set up a foundation called the Wilson Parrot Foundation with the help of volunteers.

He hopes that tax-deductible donations will finance some of the costs of providing new homes and shelter to the birds.

It seems a lot to take on, but Mr Wilson believes that birds are unique among pets with their ability to speak. And their healing role could extend beyond his own experience.

"Human affection from your relatives and your friends is all good - and it helps - but when an animal is there and is talking to you and is wanting to be hugged, that inspires that person to get even better," he says.

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