Jackson, age 3, loves to chat about his favorite movie, “Shrek”, while building with blocks. “We didn’t find out that Jackson was deaf until about 5 weeks,” says Ryan Walters of Suffield. The diagnosis came after his son failed two newborn hearing tests. Another shock a year and a half later, when Jackson’s brother, Chase, was born, also with hearing loss. “We found out through blood work that it’s a recessive gene that we both carry,” says Ryan’s wife, Corinne. “The chances of us both passing it on was rare. The chances of us passing it along twice was off the charts.” Now, the Walters are taking part in the upcoming Walk4Hearing to raise awareness about the challenges and victories their sons have experienced.
“It was scary because we didn’t know anybody with hearing loss,” says Corinne, who felt frightened and lonely. But, that changed when they attended an informational session at a hearing center and made connections with other families. The Walters also learned about the cochlear implant, a surgically-implanted electronic device that enables a profoundly deaf person to hear noises. They decided to go-forward with the four-hour surgery and Jackson received his initial implant. “His first experience hearing wasn’t what we thought it would be. It was more startling,” says Ryan. Adds his wife: “You have to point out when you turn the water on that that’s the water making the sound because he never heard that.” But, after three weeks, Jackson acclimated to his new “ears”. “He was like a different kid,” smiles his mom. “He was playing with toys he’d been playing with his whole 9 month life and getting shocked that they were making sounds.”
Team Walters will participate in the Walk4Hearing on May 31 in East Hartford’s Great River Park. “We have 21 walks around the country,” says Suzanne D’Amico of the Hearing Loss Association of America, noting that the events honor 48 million people in this country living with hearing problems. “It affects young, old. It really is one of the only disabilities that does not discriminate.” There are many causes of deafness, such as genetics, age or work conditions. Hearing loss is the most common birth defect, affecting approximately 3 in 1,000 babies.
Chase, now 1, recently got cochlear implants. The Walters, who also use sign language, believe this will be their most important walk yet, one that Jackson will remember. “There’s honestly no drawbacks,” says Ryan. “He speaks well, he plays with others.” Corinne hopes to educate the public about the amazing technology helping her sons: two precocious boys, full of fun. “If we had known about hearing loss and cochlear implants, the whole journey of those first few months would’ve been so much easier for us.”
For more information, check out http://www.walk4hearing.org