That’s the short and sweet answer to when people ask me to describe my life. Now, please don’t misunderstand me and interpret the last statement as things came easy-peasy. They didn’t. There was an immeasurable amount of sweat, endurance, pain, grace, hurt, joy, frustration, triumph, obstacles, accomplishments, and a whole lot of tears, both sad and happy. Blessed. God placed SO many powerful, encouraging, challenging, and inspirational contributors pouring into my life to help me become the woman I am today. My 25, almost 26, years of life have been amazing, wild, hectic, thrilling, terrifying, challenging, and rewarding and I quite frankly cannot see what the next challenge is.
Just before my first birthday, my parents were concerned that I had not yet started developing speech and brought me back to the doctor’s for additional testing. Now, keep in mind newborn hearing screenings were not done in 1994. I believe for the state of Maine it was not required until the year 2000. I was officially diagnosed as deaf at 15 months old and was fitted with my first hearing aids, which we quickly found were not effective. My family started using American Sign Language (ASL) as my first mode of communication and continued researching how they wanted to prep me for the rest of my life.
My mom was in the hospital with me after a hearing appointment and just so happened to run into Pat Slater, Teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing and our family’s angel. If you don’t know Pat, you are missing out on one of the most INCREDIBLE people. Pat and my mom started talking about me and when the topic of additional modes of communication came up, Pat introduced my mom to Cued Speech.
By the time I was a year and a half old, I was participating in six hours of therapy a week with Pat where she used a combination of Cued Speech and ASL. A year into the therapy, it was decided that we would focus more on Cued Speech in order to provide me with access to spoken English. At this time, my parents had heard about cochlear implants and flew to New York City to meet with the NY League for the Hard of Hearing (now known as the Center for Hearing and Communication) to discuss candidacy for the surgery. Ultimately, we were turned down due to the remoteness of Maine. We added a speech and language pathologist, Barbara Gillis, to our team when I turned three years old and continued working with Pat.
The summer after turning three, my mom and I went to the Minutemen Cochlear Convention hosted in Sturbridge, MA. She attended one of the first discussions and promptly went to the registration desk and wanted to talk (probably more like demanded) to someone about getting me a cochlear implant. It was there that we met Dr. Marilyn Neault, another powerful and key player. She sat and talked to my mom about cochlear implants for about two hours and when my mother walked away, I was moving forward with the cochlear implant candidacy process.
One key aspect of the qualification process was that all doctors on the board needed to approve. However, one doctor did not approve, citing I did not have a language. By the grace of God and some strong-minded individuals, the doctors ultimately proceeded with the surgery without the one dissenting doctor’s approval. I was implanted February 2, 1998 and my implant processor was activated on March 7, 1998.
Fun fact! In 1998, the cochlear implant was FDA approved for adults, but it was not approved for children. However, I became a part of the clinical trial and as a result became one of the first Cue-Kids to be implanted at Boston Children’s Hospital!
Following my implantation, I continued my work with Pat and Barbara and made multiple trips to Boston to ensure the implant was performing properly and that I was progressing. From ages three to seven years old, I attended the Cued Speech camp in Winthrop, Maine, where I met Polly Earl, one of the early and continued pioneers of Cued Speech, as well as other young children who communicated the same way I did.
Moving forward to grade school, I began utilizing a Cued Language Transliterator (CLT) and a desktop FM system. This continued until about fourth grade when we decided to stop using a CLT and simply use the FM system. I say ‘we,’ but it was more of a situation where I refused to look at my CLT. I’ll admit, I was a stubborn kid and I’m still a stubborn woman today! I continued using the FM system in various formats throughout middle school and high school. Most notably, using my FM system when I was playing softball was a HUGE game changer. I could now hear my coach when he was yelling plays onto the field or when he was calling us to shift due to the type of batter who was up. High school went quickly and before I knew it, I was off to college.
I ended up deciding to attend Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY as they had access services already in place for deaf and hard of hearing students. This was largely possibly due to NTID, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college within RIT with approximately 2,000 students. I began my studies as a biology major but switched into packaging science halfway through my second year as I did not want to leave the school and fell in love with packaging. I continued my academics and went on to complete three different six-month co-ops with Corning Life Sciences, PepsiCo, and ACCO brands before graduating in the spring of 2017. Prior to graduation, I had a job offer from Brown-Forman Corporation in Louisville, KY and accepted. Off I went to Kentucky, the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, bourbon, and the Kentucky Derby!
I could not have asked for a better company to start off my young professional career. Brown-Forman was diligent, proactive, and accommodated any request without hesitation and I am incredibly thankful. I quickly settled in, made new friends, found a new church, and met the man who would become my husband. We connected and related on various levels, I with my deafness and he with his autism. He is extremely high functioning and he, too, has quite a team backing him! Caleb and I were married in Maine on October 6, 2018 and soon after, an opportunity was presented for us to move back to my home state (Maine).
We accepted the opportunity and now live in southern Maine with our two dogs, Elsa and Luna, as I happily settle into my new role at IDEXX Laboratories and Caleb pursues his dream of becoming an electrician. I am fortunate to be working for yet another company who places utmost responsibility and genuine focus on diversity and inclusion. In our free time, we enjoy spending time with family, traveling in and out of the state, being outdoors, and enjoying life day by day.
I would not be here if it was not for all the twists and turns I/we experienced along the way. For those, I am thankful. Thank you to all of you who have touched my life and helped it take the shape it has. This is not just the story of me; it’s the story of us.