We are halfway through our 20th Anniversary Celebration year, and one of our favorite projects is introducing you to our Patient Heroes. These features represent thousands of patients Hearts for Hearing has been privileged to serve since our founding in 2003.
So far, you have met patients of all ages across Oklahoma – from recently diagnosed newborns just beginning their listening and talking journey to children in the midst of receiving audiology and speech-language therapy with us. You’ve also met teens and young adults who have completed their program of work and return to Hearts for Hearing for annual well check appointments as well as our most recent patient hero feature, an adult who is living his best life after receiving cochlear implants at age 61.
Next, we are pleased to introduce you to ten-year-old Rodrigo, a dynamic young boy who meets people easily and instantly engages you in conversation in both English and Spanish – which ever language you prefer. He also creates stop motion videos (more on that later). To fully appreciate how he is mastering his listening and talking abilities, it is best to start from the beginning.
Rodri – as his family calls him – was born prematurely in Venezuela and spent the first weeks of his life in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and, according to his mom, survived thanks to oxygen support and antibiotics. She tells us, “We were told Rodri lost his hearing sometime in his first three months of life due to the antibiotics he had to be given to live.”
As a baby, Rodrigo’s family – dad, mom, sister, and grandmother – left Venezuela in search of a better and safer future for their children, settling first in Argentina. Six years later, the family emigrated again, this time to the United States and their new home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mom tells us “Rodri’s journey has not been easy. When he was very young, he had trouble even sitting down and learning to walk – he has gone from therapy to therapy for different health care needs in three different countries – however he has overcome the many barriers put in front of him.”
After moving to the United States, Rodrigo learned English very quickly; within about six months. It was then that Rodrigo began his Hearts for Hearing journey. Mom tells us, “Rodri’s experience has been incredible. From his pronunciation in English to the consistency of his speech, our experience has been outstanding.” She adds that staff celebrates language in both English and Spanish, and she is proud her son is – in her words learning to think before responding – which makes him a better communicator. Mom says, “We have done therapies in other countries, and here at Hearts for Hearing, we feel the services provided are the best he has received anywhere … from device calibrations to the human kindness of the people working here … it is impressive.”
Rodrigo received cochlear implants at a young age. Mom says, “We chose listening and spoken language because we wanted to give him all the necessary resources so that he can live as comfortably as possible in a listening and speaking world,” then adds, “It was important to us that he be integrated with society and be able to have the benefits of a typical hearing person.” Mom tells us Rodrigo never attended a specialized school, and they always enrolled him in mainstream public schools. She also says, “I understand there are some people who do not agree with the idea of cochlear implants, and I respect that. However, hearing my son tell me ‘I love you’ is priceless to me and would not be possible without his cochlear implants.”
Rodrigo is enthusiastic about many things including video games, swimming at the pool, music and dancing, Legos, and anything Star Wars. However, his favorite hobby is stop–motion videos. His parents even let him create his own YouTube channel to highlight his work. If you have the chance to meet Rodrigo in person, his stop-motion videos will be the first thing he mentions. He is fun to talk with, and he will quiz you by asking you English words, then telling you how to say that word in Spanish. At some point in your conversation, Rodrigo will tell you when he grows up, he wants to be a video game programmer or a movie director. His mom says the family’s goal for Rodri is “that he graduates with a university degree, that he achieves what he wants in life, but the most important thing is to be happy.”
“My biggest recommendation is to try and be patient … the road is not easy and can feel very long, but it can be reached…it may feel at times impossible, but it is not.” She adds, “Always be with them, get involved in the therapies that Hearts for Hearing teaches and also practice them at home all the time.”
Hearts for Hearing was founded in 2003 with a mission of providing hearing technology and speech therapy services at no out-of-pocket costs to families with children who were born deaf. 20 years later, we are still teaching babies and children born deaf to listen and talk. Our services have expanded to include adult hearing care with offices in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Shawnee. Our team of professionals has grown from our original three people to 117 now. Hearts for Hearing continues to provide the first set of hearing technology and therapy to children at no out-of-pocket costs to families, and now includes Newborn Hearing Screen services, major research initiatives, Eyes Open Ears On programming, and its own 3D ear mold lab.