Told he needed a tonsil operation at the age of three, Ben Grocock was terrified.
So terrified, he insisted he would never speak again if the surgery went ahead.
His parents brushed off his threat (he was three, after all) and the operation took place.
But when Ben awoke, he stuck to what became his final word. For the next ten years he retreated into a world of silence.
Until now. At 13, Ben has started talking properly for the first time – thanks to a confidence course run by his local fire brigade.
Persuaded to open up on the five-day course, Ben even managed to address the audience at his ‘ passingout parade’ with a hesitant ‘thank you’.
It was the first time his grandparents had heard him speak since he was a toddler.
Now, to the relief of his mother Linda Brant, 38, the floodgates have opened and Ben has started talking to his teachers and friends.
For four years after his tonsil operation at Basingstoke Hospital, Ben would talk only to his brother, now 12, and only then when the pair were alone.
With everyone else, he relied on written notes and hand signals to communicate.
He was diagnosed with selective mutism, a rare anxiety disorder which leaves children terrified of speaking in certain situations.
There was some progress in 2003, when a bike accident shocked him into speaking to his mother. ‘Ben had always been painfully shy but it was just terrible when he wouldn’t talk at all,’ Miss Brant, a shop worker, said from the family home in Liskeard, Cornwall.
‘At first I think it was just the shock of the operation but then he was so deep into the habit of not speaking that he just couldn’t any more.
‘It only changed when he fell off his bike and said: “Ouch, that hurt!”
‘Once he had done that, it was like he broke the barrier with me and could carry on talking.’
The breakthrough came when his school, Liskeard Community College, enrolled him on a confidence building course with Cornwall Fire Brigade.
The fireman running the course, Tim Cocks said: ‘I was concerned to begin with because I thought Ben couldn’t take part.
‘But after I explained that to him, he agreed to speak to me, then he began talking to everyone.
‘At the end of the course we had a passingout parade and Ben stood up and thanked everybody.
‘It was the first time his grandparents had heard him speak in ten years; it was very emotional for everyone.’
Yesterday, Ben’s grandfather, Tony Brant, 63, said: ‘It brought a huge lump to my throat. To hear his voice was just beautiful.
‘I could listen to him talk for ever. We feared Ben would never speak again but now he is chattering all the time.’