Ingrao: Hello Victor. Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to share your store with the readers of HealthyHearing.
Lew: Thank you, Dr. Ingrao, for the opportunity to share my story.
Ingrao: As the father of deaf child and former middle distance runner, I found your story doubly interesting. Before we talk about the Chicago Marathon, can you tell me a little about you and your family?
Lew: I am the father of three children: Justin, Eric & Jessica. Justin is 8 years old, Eric is 6, and Jessica is almost 2. My wife, Laura, and I have been together for 10 years. Both of us have lived in and around Chicago for all of our lives. We now own a house in the suburbs near our family and close to work. I am a licensed architect, and have a firm that specializes in the design and construction of residential work.
Ingrao: Your son is now a very successful cochlear implant recipient. How did that all come about?
Lew: When Eric was born, Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL was performing routine newborn hearing screenings. Even though he did not pass, we still were not too concerned since Laura's pregnancy and delivery went well. I can't say enough about how important that test was. The next year would turn out to be the most critical phase in Eric's development. We immediately contacted a wonderful team of doctors and audiologists in Highland Park, IL headed by Dr. Michele. After they ruled out any middle ear complications, we realized Eric was, in fact, deaf. Profoundly deaf to be exact. At two and half months they fitted Eric with hearing aids with hopes that he would benefit from some residual hearing. At this time we were not familiar with cochlear implants. One of the audiologists, Jill Meltzer, put us in touch with a family whose daughter had been through a similar experience and had been implanted. When we met their daughter, Talia, who was 4 at the time, our jaws dropped. Her ability to communicate was excellent even for any 4 year old! This was the encouragement that we needed at that time. So our next step was to see if Eric was eligible to receive a CI and, if so, how soon. We scheduled an appointment to meet with the Koss Cochlear Implant Center at the Children's Hospital in Milwaukee, WI to meet the surgeon, Dr. Phil Wackym, and their audiology team. On our first visit while meeting with Dr. Wackym, his eyes welled up as he was sharing with us how much satisfaction he gets out of implanting children. It didn't take long for Laura and I to decide that this would be the right place for Eric. In the meantime, the best that we could do was to stay proactive, and keep working with Eric by giving him as much input as possible. We met with speech - language pathologist Sue Singerman twice a week. Sue was great to work with -- she kept us educated on what to do, and always kept raising the bar.
At 11 months Eric was implanted with a CI made by Advanced Bionics. He has benefited from the CII model, which will allow him to take advantage of newer coding strategies. Eric was "plugged in" (activated) two days after his first birthday.
Ingrao: That's a great story of how early identification and intervention can really fall into place to make a huge difference in a child and family's life!
On to the Marathon. The longest race I ever ran in was a 10k, but I also participated in a few 10 mile charity runs. How do you prepare yourself mentally and physically to run more than 26 miles?
Lew: Good question! I probably could not have answered that 4 months ago. I have been exercising regularly for 12 years. Running was always part of my routine, but I never really went beyond six miles or so. With the exception of running some races I never considered myself a long distance runner. I tried my first half-marathon about 6 years ago and I was hooked. Since then I have run more half-marathons. In October I'll be running in my first marathon at the Chicago Marathon. In preparing, once the motivation is there, the rest is just sticking to it. Now I haven't crossed the finish line yet, but I feel prepared.
Ingrao: Everyone marathoner I've ever talked to has a specific motivation for completing this Herculean task. Yours is very close to home. Please tell us about Child's Voice and how it relates to your participation in the Marathon.
Lew: Shortly after Eric received his implant, we researched all of the available educational settings for him. One school that stood out was Child's Voice School in Wood Dale, IL. This school specialized in children with needs like Erics. Children who are hard of hearing and profoundly deaf learn to listen and talk without the use of sign language. Their goal is to help these children optimize their listening, speech, language, academic skills and their self-confidence so that they can be successful in a mainstream educational setting and society. On our first visit we were so happy to see the older kids at the school because we knew one day that Eric would be speaking as well as them. We enrolled him at 2 1/2 years old, and he graduated at 6 this past June. Eric would not have been able to succeed in the mainstream at this young age without the help of Child's Voice. We wanted to continue to help the school so other kids could continue to benefit like Eric did. So I'm using my participation in the Chicago Marathon as a fundraiser on behalf of Child's Voice School.
Ingrao: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Victor. Best of luck with the race and please let us know how you did and how Eric is doing.
Lew: Thank you. It was a pleasure, and I'll be sure to update you.
We received the following update from Victor after he completed the Chicago Marathon. HealthyHearing extends warm congratulations to Mr. Lew and commends his efforts on behalf of his son and many other deaf and hard of hearing children.
Dear Family & Friends,
With the Chicago Marathon behind me, and the fundraising effort coming to an end, I would like to update everyone. First of all and most importantly, thank you to everyone who contributed and helped make this fundraising effort a success. My family and I appreciate what all of you have done to help an organization that has impacted so many lives, and will continue to for years. The money that has been raised for Childs Voice School will give other children the same educational opportunities as Eric had.
Ive raised $4,655, which exceeded the $2,500 target in 10 days. That outpouring of support was very encouraging, which only forced me to train harder so that I was sure to cross the finish line! Along the way, I caught the attention of a deaf and hard of hearing organization. Thank you Dr. Ingrao for taking an interest in our story. Additionally, Childs Voice notified me that the Oberkotter Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the Oral Deaf Education, would match dollar for dollar the money that has been raised. There is also another organization that matches 1:1 for new donors! Since most of you are, this is great news.
Eric has adjusted well to his new 1st grade mainstream environment. He has made many new friends, and takes the class work seriously. The most dramatic change for him was when he was introduced to an FM system. This is a device that allows him to receive sounds directly through a wireless microphone worn by the teacher. His face lit up the first time they used it, and he continues to use it on a daily basis. There are also more new developments in the world of cochlear implants that we are all excited about. In January 2007 they are introducing a new model that will provide 10 times more frequency bands than he has now. This will provide enhanced music appreciation, improved speech understanding, and significantly improved overall sound quality.
Lastly, the marathon was a great experience. I enjoyed everything from the training and preparation to the race and recovery. During the race itself came the thoughts and memories that Ill retain for years. Laura, my parents, and the kids were able to see me at multiple spots along the course. They were even able to catch me at the 20 mile when I really needed it! They enjoyed seeing me as much as I enjoyed seeing them. Today I feel great, and I am even thinking about future marathons. Thank you again to everyone who contributed and Childs Voice School for all you have done!
Love, Eric, Justin, Jessica, Laura & Vic