As our 20th Anniversary Celebration continues, we are pleased to introduce you to our next Hearts for Hearing Patient Hero. His name is Tyler Sams, and he is an outstanding example of the possibilities that can be achieved when a child born deaf is diagnosed with hearing loss early, fit with hearing technology as soon as possible, and receiving listening and spoken language therapy services to help prepare for entering school. Tyler is also currently recognized by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame as the 2023 Jim Thorpe Award Outstanding Male Tennis Player.
We are especially grateful as Tyler took time from his studies at Tulsa Community College, where he is a freshman studying Computer Programming, to share his story with us – and you. Tyler is matter of fact when he says, “I failed my hearing test at the hospital when I was born.” His parents tell him they began considering how best to raise a child born deaf, and family members were signed up to learn American Sign Language. Before the classes began, someone mentioned Hearts for Hearing, and by three months of age, Tyler was seeing an audiologist and listening and spoken language specialist.
“I received my first cochlear implant when I was nine-months-old, and my second at 18-months,” says Tyler. In those first years of school, he was the only child in his classes with hearing loss, but says, “For the most part it was normal. Thanks to all the speech therapy I had received, I didn’t require one-on-one attention from the teachers, they didn’t have to use special microphones, and I didn’t need closed captions during a video.” Tyler remembers lots of kids – and even adults – who would ask questions about his hearing technology. “It is funny to me now because they all start the same way; saying “I don’t want to offend you, or I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…”. Tyler says he had many lengthy conversations with groups of friends to explain how his cochlear implants worked, who adds, “they would get their minds blown by how cool they thought the technology was.”
Like many school age kids, Tyler wanted to be active in sports. He recalls that it made his parents “really nervous,” and they did not want him participating in contact sports or anything that required a helmet. Basketball was a “no go” too because Tyler’s parents didn’t want him to get hit in the head with a basketball or an elbow. Luckily for Tyler, the year he turned six, his grandparents moved to a new house in a neighborhood that had a tennis court and a coach who offered tennis lessons. Tyler says he tried it and loved it – and played off and on for fun until he was in the 6th grade when he realized tennis was his sport.
“Being deaf never really held me back on the court, except during the hottest times of the year,” says Tyler, who recalls, “I did sweat through many Nucleus-5 processors before I started using a waterproof sleeve, which helped.” According to Tyler, the Nucleus-7 handles a lot more sweat than older models, and he’s learned to dry-off his hair more often when playing, and he wears a cap. “He adds, I also keep my hair cut short on the sides and I use toupee tape to help keep processors in place.” He admits he’s lost a few points here and there because his processors have come loose, but never enough that he could blame losing an entire match.
Tyler was captain of his Broken Arrow High School tennis team and says his coaches have always been encouraging and patient. Being recognized as a Jim Thorpe Award winner “was very flattering, and it especially meant a lot because it was voted on by coaches from around the state,” says Tyler.
For now, Tyler is focused on his computer programming classes, and he finds time to coach tennis to younger players. He is also focused on stretching his hobbies and has set a goal to learn to play an instrument. “Maybe guitar or learning to play electronic music.” Tyler is also wanting to work with an artist, so he can learn how to draw “more than a stick figure,” and adds, “I think it would be cool to develop a video game.”
To children with hearing loss, Tyler says, “You are capable of doing as much as anyone else. My advice is to be patient and kind to yourself and do not shy away from trying new things.”
For parents of children with hearing loss, he shares, “The beginning is always the hardest part. It does get easier. Be patient with yourself and your child. As they get older, they will understand their implants more – in fact, it will become easy. Do what your audiologist and listening and spoken language specialist recommends, and it will turn out all right.”
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.