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Local mother says Waiting to Hear changed daughter's life

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Aug 9, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Ten years ago, when she was born, Anna appeared to be a typical, healthy newborn. However, her mother Melissa Blake was given the news by nurses that Anna had failed her newborn hearing test because she was screaming during the test.

“We trusted the nurses and thought little of it, although our older son had passed his newborn hearing test almost four years earlier without any issues,” Melissa recalls.

When Anna turned 3, she still didn’t speak and often didn’t respond. Trusting her instincts, Melissa took her daughter to see an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). Anna was given a hearing test in a dark sound-proof booth where – scared because her parents were not allowed in the test with her - she became very agitated. Anna’s father insisted he stay with her during the next test. The outcome was that “Anna didn’t hear slivers of some things, but her hearing was not bad enough to correct,” Melissa explained.

At age 4, Anna started Pre-K and had apparent problems. Anna’s teachers told Melissa they thought Anna simply wasn’t hearing them, was withdrawn and still not speaking much. Finally, at Anna’s 5-year-old “well-check” visit, the Blakes were referred to an audiologist. She was given an Automated Brain Response (ABR) test in Knoxville. Typically taking only 15 minutes, Anna’s ABR test took over two hours. Turns out, Anna was severely hearing-impaired in her left ear and moderately impaired in her right ear. Hearing aids were recommended, but cost thousands of dollars. Because of insurance issues, the Blakes went to a hearing center that normally only works with older adults. Anna received her first hearing aids before starting kindergarten, yet she was still withdrawn and having issues at school. The hearing aids squealed, were not working correctly and were just not what Anna needed. The Blakes were shocked at the lack of auditory professionals and resources in the area to help Anna.

Then, miracles started happening. First, the Blakes found Dr. Shannon Bramlette, an audiologist who changed Anna’s life. They traveled an hour from home to see Dr. Bramlette. She recommended better hearing aids and to order them through an organization called “Waiting to Hear” and its hearing aid bank. After getting the correct hearing aids, thanks to Waiting to Hear, Anna’s life was instantly changed, and she began to flourish. The Blakes also met an interpreter for the hearing-impaired who became Anna’s advocate, making sure Anna’s school could provide what she needed.

“Besides the hearing aids, other factors like teaching style, the teacher’s accent and talking speed, being in a walled-in classroom versus an open classroom all can affect Anna’s learning,” declares Melissa. The school also provided Anna with an FM system to amplify sounds in group settings.

“We are so thankful to Waiting to Hear for providing us a wealth of resources and programs as well as a support system of other parents who have children like Anna to help us on this journey,” says Melissa. It is not known if Anna’s hearing will worsen over time. But Waiting to Hear will be able to give the Blakes support in learning sign language or getting cochlear implants if needed.

Melissa now loves to teach others about the hearing-impaired and regularly travels to classrooms to read the book, “Let’s Hear It for Almigal,” about a spunky little girl with hearing loss, and educate kids about hearing-impaired students. She also speaks at Waiting to Hear’s annual conference, “Breaking the Sound Barrier.” This year’s conference will be held Sept. 13 at MeadowView Convention Center.

“I have learned a lot,” Melissa admits. “For example, the hand signals in baseball, still used today, were originally used because of deaf major league baseball player William Ellsworth Hoy.”

Waiting to Hear was co-founded by Shannon Ball and wife Sherry because of daughter Sarah who lost her hearing at age 2.5 years. It is a 100 percent volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Kingsport and “dedicated to helping those with hearing loss to be able to succeed in the hearing world.” You can learn more on the organization’s website, www.waitingtohear.org, or its Facebook page. They have a “mobile hearing clinic” to visit schools and businesses to give free hearing screenings and exams. Five area speech and hearing centers have Waiting to Hear parent resource libraries. They provide play groups/mentoring services valuable to new families and hold an annual Camp H.E.A.R. designed especially for hearing-impaired children.

Waiting to Hear’s popular Hear Me Roar fundraising event will be held at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 10, at Creation Kingdom Zoo in Gate City, Virginia, where many favorite characters from television and movies will be on hand for photo opportunities in support of the organization. Tickets are $15 for ages 2 and older and will be available at the door on the night of the event.

Do you know someone with hearing loss? Contact Waiting to Hear via email at info@waitingtohear.org or call (276) 494-4138.