Annie’s Story – born deaf, now hearing

Our daughter, Annie, was born prematurely with a congenital virus called “congenital cytomegalovirus” This virus attacks the eyes, ears and brain of an unborn child. We are extremely grateful that Annie fully recovered except for her hearing. Her hearing was completely destroyed by CMV. My husband and I have no history of hearing loss on either side of our family. We were completely devastated to hear that our tiny baby daughter was profoundly deaf. To be profoundly deaf means that if a jet plane landed in our living room she would not hear a thing. She would feel the vibration but would not be able to hear anything. Holding my beautiful tiny baby in the wee hours of the dark night wanting to sing and talk to her and comfort her was so sad knowing she could not hear me at all. We have two older children and this reality of deafness for our youngest daughter was very difficult for them as well as for us. We were asking questions such as: where would she be in kindergarten? Where would she be at sixteen? Would she marry and have her own family someday? This flood of concerns was real and challenging as young parents.

We received a call from our friend Jen who told us: “you have to call Hearts for Hearing…they will take good care of Annie.” And we did. From our first phone call, Hearts for Hearing began to restore our dreams for Annie. Within a week, they had tiny hearing aids on our four-pound baby girl. Even though Annie was profoundly deaf she needed the stimulation on her auditory nerve from the hearing aids to activate neurological development. Neither Mike nor I knew anything about that but Hearts for Hearing was there to help us through. Hearts for Hearing provided Annie’s first set of hearing aids so she could get the stimulation she needed quickly and we are forever grateful. Along with the hearing aids we began auditory verbal therapy with the hope that Annie would learn to listen and speak like her older brother and sister. At a year old Annie had cochlear implant surgery. One surgery for her right ear and one surgery for her left ear. Once she got full access to sound Annie’s development sky-rocketed. Annie hadn’t begun to crawl at 12 months but after her cochlear implant she began to crawl and pull up and become curious what sounds were and who was talking. Her eyes lit up and she began to babble. It was the most wonderful babble we had ever heard. Annie’s first word was “Da-Da.” We continued working with Hearts for Hearing doing auditory verbal therapy weekly and Annie attended the Hearts for Hearing preschool. Annie continued to thrive developmentally and we started to close the gap on milestones that had passed us by. We were witnessing daily what we considered miracle after miracle of her discovering new sounds that most of us honestly take for granted: leaves rustling in the Oklahoma wind, tiny bird calls, the refrigerator ice maker turning on, trains, sirens, whistling, background music. These were all fresh and new as our family celebrated each new discovery with Annie. She was working so hard to learn to listen in those early years. It was so incredible to witness. Annie’s personality really began to show. Her funny, creative ability to pick up on humor that they say is often lost when a child experiences hearing loss is not lost at all with Annie. She loves to laugh and loves to make other people laugh. She is determined and strong and incredibly resilient.

Annie is getting ready to graduate kindergarten in a mainstream classroom where our older two children attended. She is amazing. Helen Keller once said when asked what was more difficult, being blind or being deaf? She responded, “Being deaf, because it steals relationship.” The miracle that Hearts for Hearing is doing is bigger than restoring hearing. They are restoring people’s ability to experience relationship. My husband and I are beyond grateful that we get to watch Annie walk in this miracle every day. The work of Hearts for Hearing has not only changed our family today but it has changed our family for generations to come. The ability to function with listening skills and spoken language is not an is truly a miracle. A little girl that without cochlear implants and years of auditory verbal therapy would not be able to hear a jet plane if it pulled up next to her is today thriving in a mainstream classroom. We have friends that tell us all the time, “we forget that Annie is deaf.” We do not forget but deafness does not define our daughter. She has a bright shining future. And she is laughing at the days to come! If you have any sort of hearing loss or know of anyone who does and has need, connect them with Hearts for Hearing. They are the best of the best. They are revolutionizing the way people are doing auditory verbal therapy. We have a treasure here in Oklahoma City. Let people know so they can get help!

– Mike and Abbey Billingsley (Annie’s parents)

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