Facing darkness, Ottawa girl sees dream come true in City of Light

An expression of awe washed over Jayden Lanning's face after spotting the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the first time from a tour bus window. The 11-year-old, who has Usher syndrome and could lose her eyesight, and her family returned to Ottawa after an experience of a lifetime.

Jayden Lanning, 11, could soon lose eyesight to Usher syndrome, but realized her dream of seeing Paris

Jayden Lanning, 11, of Ottawa says she was surprised to discover the Eiffel Tower in Paris is actually bronze, not silver, and that it's covered in intricate designs. (Submitted)

Jayden Lanning's body tightened up and an expression of awe washed over the Ottawa girl's face after first spotting the Eiffel Tower from the window of a tour bus. 

Jayden, 11, had dreamed of casting her eyes on the famous Paris landmark ever since she learned she could lose her sight in her teens.

"I was like, 'Oh my word,'" she said. "'There it finally is. I can't believe I'm seeing this.'"

Lanning was born deaf and has cochlear implants. She has a progressive form of Usher syndrome, which causes retinal degeneration. Her doctor told her family that her tunnel vision could close in entirely within five years.

After friends and family in Ottawa learned Lanning wanted to see the sights of Paris before that day comes, they raised enough money to send her, her parents and little sister Alena on a 10-day holiday to France, with a stopover in Iceland.

The family recently returned to Ottawa with memories they hope Jayden can look back on, and a story they hope will inspire others with the same disease to explore the world before theirs goes dark.

'It gives me goose bumps'

On the flight to Europe, Belinda and Steve Lanning worried their daughter might be disappointed when she finally saw the Eiffel Tower. They couldn't have been more wrong. 

The family was on a bus tour of Paris when Jayden heard her mom shout, "Look!" She turned her head and there it was.

Every time I think about it I want to cry because her reaction was just overjoyed, and it was beautiful.- Belinda Lanning

"I don't know why but I got jitters in my stomach," she recalled. 

Belinda Lanning's eyes filled with tears.

"It gives me goose bumps," she said. "Every time I think about it I want to cry because her reaction was just overjoyed, and it was beautiful."

The Lannings climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. It was Jayden's dream to see the famous light show. (Submitted)

'They're like diamonds'

Over the next few days, Jayden had the chance to see the landmark up close. The family rode the elevator to the tower's upper platform, stood on the glass floor, and gazed out at the panoramic view. 

Later, the family climbed to the top of the Arc de Tromphe to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night.

"When it first started lighting up it was kind of gold, then for five minutes it was glittering on and off with these silver lights and that was really pretty," said Jayden.

"She just said right away, 'They're like diamonds, mom,'" her mother recalled.

Jayden and her sister, Alena, walked through Paris, stopping in at cafés and shops to get a taste of the culture. (Submitted)

Other sights to see

There were other sights to see. 

The Lannings visited the Louvre and took selfies in front of the Mona Lisa. Jayden tasted crepes drizzled with caramel and delighted in the aroma of Parisian gardens filled with exotic blooms. 

On way home, the family stopped in Iceland, where they took in the spectacular landscape dotted with geysers and waterfalls.

Belinda and Jayden Lanning visit a waterfall in Iceland during a stopover on the way home to Ottawa. (Submitted)

Overwhelming support

The family has been overwhelmed with support from strangers all over the world touched by Jayden's story. ​

Steve Lanning said he hopes other families struggling with Usher syndrome realize time is precious. 

"We don't know how long it's going to be so we'll just continue to make things happen for her and show her as much as we can during the time we have."

The family is already dreaming of their next adventure — a trip to the Netherlands to ride tandem bikes alongside tulip fields, so Jayden can see the vibrant colours with her own eyes.

The Eiffel Tower light show dazzled Jayden, who wanted to watch it glow at night. (Submitted)

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Ashley Burke is an Ottawa-based video journalist currently reporting at CBC North in Iqaluit. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca