Today I’ve been in spring cleaning mode (yet again). I’ve also been cleaning up my computer desktop and triple-backing up important files. I just came across this acceptance speech I wrote last year. In August 2008, Barbara Kelley, editor of Hearing Loss Magazine, began interviewing me for what she said was an article that would highlight professionals with hearing loss. I had no idea she was actually filling out a nomination form for a contest!
In early October 2008, just a few weeks before the awards event, I received notice that I was the winner in the Adult Category in Oticon’s annual “Focus on People” awards event! Oticon paid for flights for both me and Michael and provided beautiful accommodations at The Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Englewood, Colorado, just outside of Denver. Winners received $1,000 each, plus $1,000 to be dedicated to the charity of their choice. Pretty exciting! You can read more about the big event in my posting here. Below is the speech that I delivered at the ceremony.
MY HEARING LOSS
Not only do I design, produce, and photograph for the Hearing Loss Magazine—I, too, have a hearing loss. I lost my hearing suddenly at age two, and with medical intervention, most of it was restored. To this day, we’re unsure of what happened. When I was seven, I got my first hearing aid. It was clunky and I disliked being different from my classmates, so I refused to wear it. In 1993 I lost all the hearing very suddenly in my right ear, and exploratory surgery revealed that scar tissue had caused the eardrum to collapse. The exploratory surgery did not restore my hearing, so I decided to try an aid again, some 30 years after my first hearing aid experience.
That experience was, so to speak, ear-opening! I hadn’t realized the world was so incredibly loud. My new life with a hearing aid had its funny moments. Walking up the stairs in our townhouse, with Michael right behind me, I stopped suddenly and asked him, “Do you hear that noise? What is it?” In the most loving way possible, he said, “Hon, those are your knees popping.” I was mortified! He laments my new acute hearing because he can no longer collect the loose change I drop, unheard, to the floor.
In the beginning, the TV volume was set so low when I controlled the remote that Michael couldn’t hear! I could hear soft noises such as my cat’s purr and water running in the sink and birds chirping through closed windows. There are many events I wish I could relive with a hearing aid now that I know what I have missed.
Five years ago, my life was upended. During a routine checkup, a new ENT discovered a cholesteatoma in my deaf ear. I hadn’t had any symptoms, so I had no idea how long it had been there. In my routine quest for knowledge, I did some online research, and learned that 1% of patients experience facial paralysis during this type of surgery. I wasn’t concerned. One percent is pretty low odds. I had surgery two weeks later. Unfortunately, I was one of those 1% patients. The entire right side of my face was paralyzed. I was so devastated. I couldn’t smile and my right eye wouldn’t fully close. Because of my surgeon’s aftercare regarding the paralysis, I consulted with Dr. John Niparko at Johns Hopkins just five weeks later. After alarming nerve testing results, I was scheduled for surgery the next afternoon to determine if the nerve had been cut. Fortunately, it had not been cut, but there was some repair work done. I am perennially grateful to Dr. Niparko for his skilled hands, concern, warmth, and kindness. Here I stand, five years later, more than halfway down the road to healing with a renewed sense of hope.
HEARING LOSS MAGAZINE
About three years ago, a client forwarded a job opportunity to me. Without telling me who the client was, she wrote, “this job is perfect for you in so many ways. You should go for it.”
Barbara Kelley, editor of the Hearing Loss Magazine, was looking for a replacement designer. In the end, I believe the scales tipped in my favor partly because of my personal experience with hearing loss. She felt I would bring more than just design skills to the job. My hearing loss actually became an asset in my professional life. Imagine that!
As a result, I’ve met so many interesting people who thrive despite their hearing loss. I’ve photographed a ballerina in The Nutcracker, an incoming Gallaudet University president, a local county singer, and last month I was at Redskins Park photographing football player Reed Doughty, who just revealed his hearing loss this summer.
I’ve also met many HLAA members, such as our May/June cover girl, Abbie Cranmer, through our respective blogs. And there have been so many unexpected perks from the job as well. Barbara introduced me to HLAA member Mike Royer and his family, who appeared on our Walk4Hearing cover this spring. I had the privilege of photographing the birth of Mike and Alicia’s third child, Ashley Jocelyn, just last month. And recently I was offered the opportunity to photograph HLAA member Wayne Roorda’s cochlear implant surgery in November.
This magazine has morphed into more than I could have imagined. I have been challenged creatively and technically. And I have discovered I have a passionate desire to change, through my design and photography, the sometimes negative perception of people with hearing loss.
I have never let my hearing loss define me. It is part of my makeup but it is just a tiny part of who I am. And if I can inspire someone else with hearing loss to overcome their self-esteem issues and find their place in the world, then that’s just another reward from this amazing job.
Thank you to Barbara Kelley and Brenda Battat for letting me run wild with my creativity and opening doors to a community of wonderful people who just happen to have hearing loss. I offer profound thanks to Barbara for her glowing nomination. And thank you to both Sara Coulter and Oticon, for your generosity, your hospitality, and for honoring me with this award.
Oticon’s Focus on People 2008 first place winners with Peer Lauritsen, President of Oticon (fourth from left): Todd Landsberg, AuD of Eugene Speech and Hearing Center in Eugene, OR (Practitioner Category); Doug Wernke, M Ed of the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Rapid City, SD (Pediatric Practitioner Category); Cindy Dyer of Alexandria, VA (Adult Category); Peer Lauritsen; Lynn Rousseau of Gainesville, FL (Advocacy Category); and Mariella Paulino of the Bronx, NY (Student Category)