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My story with deafness and cochlear implants begins long before I was even born,
with my family’s story of hearing loss and my older siblings, Jessica and Jared. My oldest
sister, Jessica, was born with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, and after a series
of misdiagnoses, hearing aids, and various trials, she received her first cochlear implant at the
age of 33 months old. With absolutely no hearing loss in our family’s history prior to my
sister, her deafness was a shock to my parents and extended family. However, from that point
onward, my parents knew to look for hearing loss in both my brother and I, knowing the
cause of my sister’s hearing loss could be genetic. My brother was also born with severe to
profound sensorineural hearing loss and received his first cochlear implant at 12 months old.
By the time my mom was pregnant with me, my family understood the work that went into
receiving cochlear implants and equipping us to hear, listen, and speak well—- setting all of
my siblings and I up for success in a hearing society.

Before I was born, my parents, other family members, friends, and the church all
prayed constantly for me, asking God for me to be born hearing. In 2000, when I was born, I
failed my newborn hearing screening and was diagnosed with severe to profound
sensorineural hearing loss a week later. My parents grieved for me, for they understood that
being deaf would bring a lot of unique challenges and obstacles into my life. Though that
prayer for hearing was not answered in the way that we imagined, it was clear that God had a
greater plan for my life with deafness.

I received my first cochlear implant in my right ear at the age of 8 months old from
Dr. Woolley at Children’s Hospital of Alabama. At the time, I was the youngest cochlear
implant recipient in Alabama, as well as one of the youngest in the nation— a miracle only
God could have orchestrated ed. I attended speech therapy and auditory verbal therapy from
infancy until the age of 4 years old, when Nancy Gregg, Susan Bunyard, and my audiologist
Julibeth Jones felt confident in my abilities to listen and speak with my cochlear implant. At
the time, I was already mainstreamed into a private school, Madison Academy, and was
thriving in preschool. My preschool teacher once commented that since I listened so well,
she wished every child was required to do auditory-verbal therapy like me— a hilarious but
encouraging compliment to my family.

I received my second cochlear implant in my left ear at age 6, making me a bilateral
cochlear implant user. Since I received my left ear later than is typical for today, the quality
of sound was not as clear in comparison to my right ear. The delay between my right and left
ears was due to emerging medical protocols and the fact that my family were trailblazers in
pediatric cochlear implantation. Despite the differences in sound quality perception, my left
ear contributes greatly to my awareness of the direction of sound and enhances my ability to
comprehend speech in noisy environments.

Thanks to receiving my first implant so early, lots of speech therapy, and my family
constantly using Listening & Spoken Language, I had a very normal childhood as I played
many sports, made friends easily, and performed well in a mainstream school. I made all A’s
in elementary school and throughout high school, when my courses included numerous
honors and advanced placement courses. In high school, I was captain of the outdoor &
indoor track team as well as the cross country team, and was blessed to have won multiple
races and awards throughout my running career, including a state championship with my
relay team. In addition to sports, I was also involved in leadership and service in high school
as a Student Ambassador, NAHS president, Student Spiritual Formation Team leader, and
small group leader, as well as a member in a number of other organizations. I graduated from
Madison Academy in May 2019 as valedictorian of my high school class with plans to attend
Samford University on a Presidential Scholarship and other outside scholarships. Currently
at Samford, I am majoring in Sports Medicine with a Biology minor in hopes of attending
either medical school or physician assistant’s school. I am involved in Greek Life, multiple
honor societies, and other campus organizations, and hold leadership positions in a few of
these organizations, while also being on the Dean’s List every semester since freshman year.
Notably, I am also in the Micah Fellows honors program at Samford, through which I have
the opportunity to learn how to live out Micah 6:8 in service to others as well as serve here at
WISE as an intern and ambassador!

I tell you all of these achievements not to brag about myself, but to show the
profound impact that cochlear implants have had on my life. Cochlear implants and
Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) have truly transformed my life, giving me language
and communication that has enabled me to hear, listen, and speak well—- empowering me to
thrive in a hearing society. Without God’s blessing of cochlear implants and all of the people
who poured into my language development— my audiologist, speech & auditory verbal
therapists, and parents —- I know I would not be the person I am today. The journey of
deafness to speech has grown me in so many different ways, and I know it is not by
coincidence, but by God’s plan.

About a year after my diagnosis, through genetic testing, my family discovered that
my siblings and I all had a Connexin 26 hearing loss, an autosomal recessive mutation that
causes severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. Statistically, this meant that my sister
had a 25% chance of being deaf, and with the birth of each deaf child in the family, the
probability of having this mutation and being deaf became smaller and smaller. When I was
born, there was a 1.56% probability of me being deaf, and a 98.44% probability of me being
hearing. With my faith, I don’t believe this is an accident, but the work of God in my life as
deafness has grown me in trusting and depending on God, as well as teaching me what it
means to have compassion for others. Deafness is just one of the many ways that in my
weakness, God’s power and love are magnified (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).

As I reflect on the impact of cochlear implants, I think of all of the ways listening and
spoken language and hearing has shaped my life as a deaf person. Cochlear implants have
matured me as a person; they have taught me perseverance and hard work. Cochlear
implants have given me accessibility to hearing society through language and
communication. Cochlear implants have shaped my future career and calling in life of
serving others, especially the underserved, through preventative medicine. Cochlear implants
have taught me humility and given me a passion for mercy and justice. Above all, cochlear
implants have given me community— relationships and friendships full of conversations,
laughter, and love. As I reflect on the many ways cochlear implants have changed my life, it is
nearly impossible to think of an area of my life that has not been affected by cochlear
implants and listening and spoken language— for the choice of listening and spoken
language is not simply a choice of which communication mode I use as a deaf person, but a
lifestyle choice.

To all of the parents and families who are walking the road of hearing loss right now,
to the parents deciding what communication mode is best for their deaf child, I want to
encourage you to not give up hope. Yes, there are some days being deaf is hard, and some
days the journey will bring obstacles and challenges that make you want to give up, but in
the end, the connections and relationships your child will form— because of Listening and
Spoken Language and cochlear implants or hearing aids— will be so worth it. The
opportunities that cochlear implants and hearing aids provide are endless, as being able to
hear, listen, and speak, opens the door for your child to achieve their dreams!

Julianne Hill