Hearts for Hearing Hero: Lily Hernandez

a black and white photo of a girl with dark curly hair infront of a window

Our patients are – and have always been – the real heroes of our history. They inspire and motivate us. In celebration of our 20th anniversary, we are giving you an opportunity to meet some of our patients and hear a little about their journey with us. Every story is representative of hundreds more. We know you will enjoy our 2023 Hearts for Hearing Hero features.


“I’m told I was a feisty one,” says Lily Hernandez, “a stubborn one,” she adds. “Tami Elder was my Listening and Spoken Language Specialist. I remember all the games we played with my family in therapy. She was very patient and fun.” That’s how Lily fondly recalls her early speech therapy sessions at Hearts for Hearing when she was a toddler.

Lily, who is driving now – and busy with high school, homework in her AP classes, cross country training, and an after-school job – is fun to talk and laugh with as she recounts her Hearts for Hearing experiences which began when she was a few weeks old. Her parents, both with typical hearing, tell her that early hearing screen results indicated a severe to profound bilateral hearing loss. The family came to Hearts for Hearing, and Lily was fit with hearing aids at 6-weeks of age. Those hearing aids helped introduce her to sound. Although she was making progress, her ability to hear continued to deteriorate. At age three, she received her first cochlear implant followed by a second implant on her other ear several months later. Lily attended weekly therapy sessions, Listening for Littles activities as well as our Bridges pre-school.

Her mom Rachel, says after Lily’s cochlear implant surgeries, her vocabulary grew rapidly and she became more easy to understand. Her spoken language took off. Rachel shared this video clip taken by dad, Alex, of 4-year-old Lily performing for her parents a few months after her implants were activated.

After graduating from Hearts for Hearing’s Listening and Spoken Language program, Lily used her voice to partner with our Founder & CEO, Joanna Smith. They would visit with – and educate – groups across Oklahoma about the possibilities of teaching a child born deaf to listen and talk. Both Joanna and Lily enjoyed these outreach opportunities and have remained close over the years. Together, the two helped raise tens of thousands of dollars over the years to help other children diagnosed with significant hearing loss.

Lily exudes a confidence and maturity that is impressive as she considers how her attitude about her hearing loss has changed over the years. “Back then, I really didn’t know what was going on, I wasn’t mature enough to understand,” then adds, “Now that I’m older, I am able to realize and show my gratitude for the opportunity I had to get cochlear implants early and to participate in therapy that engaged my whole family.”

Lily says her friends – and people she meets today – are completely surprised to learn she is deaf. They tell her they had no idea because her listening and speech are so good, then she adds, “they even forget after I’ve told them.”

Lily says she is a typical teenager today, who is glad her parents supported her listening and talking journey and sent her to public school settings. She has never felt weird about having cochlear implants, ”It is just a part of who I am, I may have been self-conscious at times because of the technology, but never weird.” She is grateful her parents also immersed her in Hearts for Hearing activities too – including summer camp – because she enjoyed being around children “with hearing loss like her”. She especially enjoyed being a camp counselor last summer and she felt a special bond with all the little kids who seemed to really “look up to her and the other counselors.”


“For parents, especially with kids who have hearing loss, putting them in environments with other typical hearing kids like a classroom setting as well as places like Hearts for Hearing’s Summer Camp where there are other children with the same hearing loss was such a huge factor and positive for me, and helped me lose some of the insecurities I had when I was younger.” Lily concluded with this comment, “I think I wish my younger self knew that no one cares. If they did, it would be their loss, it’s on them. I have something special that not everyone else has and I have a story that I can tell.”

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