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Courtesy Triplitt family

Toryn Triplitt, ’19, left, sings songs in preschool after receiving her second set of implants.

Toryn Triplitt overcomes challenges of disability

I was born on Jan. 22, 2002, in Fresno, California, to my parents, David and Traci Triplitt. However, from my birth day on, something was not quite right.

Unfortunately, at the time of my birth, most hospitals only did Newborn Hearing Screenings on infants with a high risk of hearing loss, such as those who had birth defects, or a low birth rate. The hearing tests were not mandatory, but optional.

Around six thousand babies that are born deaf, or have hearing loss are sent home from hospitals each year. Most of these infants are not diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing until the age of 3. I was one of these infants: a normal baby as far as my parents knew. I was otherwise healthy and active; there was nothing that could’ve given away that I was deaf.

At the age of seven months, my parents began to suspect I was deaf, or at least hard of hearing, due to the fact I did not react to loud noises in the same way a typical infant would. My mom would call my name from behind and I would not turn around or move. I had no response to sound in general, especially when I could not see where it was coming from.

“I think in some ways it was a bit of a blessing that Toryn’s hearing wasn’t tested as part of newborn hearing screening,” Traci Triplitt, Toryn’s mom said. “It gave me/us a few months to just enjoy a precious new baby without the stress of a diagnosis.  I think that I also was able to work through some of the emotions/stages of grieving even before we had a formal diagnosis.” 

I was wrongly diagnosed at nine months old with moderate to severe hearing loss. At eleven months old, my family decided to give digital hearing aids a shot. I received no benefit from them. There was no change in my reaction to noises which led to me being diagnosed as profoundly deaf in both ears at 13 months at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I had strong suspicions by about five months but tried to deny it for a while,” Traci said. “By seven months, I was pretty certain and went to the pediatrician with our concern.  Getting the diagnosis that you were profoundly deaf was still very hard. I experienced a lot of emotions; I was sad, scared, overwhelmed and sometimes angry. We got to work right away trying to learn what we needed to know and pursuing appointments with specialists. It was a very busy few year for all of our family with medical appointments, lots of tests, surgeries, therapy and all of the related travel.”

The deaf diagnosis was initially devastating for my parents to hear and realize. My family then introduced to Cochlear Implants and were advised to look into them at this same appointment.

According to the Cochlear website, the implants send sound signals to the brain, allowing the individual to hear.

“A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that does the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.”

My family then began to meet with surgeons in Palo Alto at the California Ear Institute to decide if Cochlear Implants would be successful and the next route to go. We met with Doctor Joseph Roberson and decided to go for it and scheduled the surgery.

To receive Cochlear Implants, I underwent a total of two surgeries. At the time of my surgeries, they would not implant young children in both ears at the same time. So, I had to get them one at a time. The first one was obviously for my first implant. We did my right ear first and I went into surgery on June 21, 2003. The day I had my first implant turned on and heard for the first time was about a month later in July 2003. I had my second implant done at the age of three.

Cayla Rivas | The Feather Online

Staff writer Toryn Triplitt.

Until I was about 13, I would go to Palo Alto about every six months for “mapping” appointments with an audiologist. Mapping was to turn up the sound, pitches, and volume on my implants and in some situations decrease sound. Now there is an audiologist in Fresno at Valley Children’s Hospital, which means my family and I do not have to make the trip to Palo Alto nearly as often.

Aside from being deaf, I was a normal kid growing up, except for my early additional schooling. Prior to attending a regular preschool, I was enrolled in a local oral deaf education preschool for kids that were just like me. I attended Birney Elementary’s oral deaf education program. In addition to that, I attended the Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf, two times a month for six months.

I was working with verbal therapists and undergoing oral auditory therapy. I was encouraged not just at therapy sessions and school to listen for new sounds, recognize familiar ones and identify the source of these sounds, but was pushed to do the same at home.

I then enrolled in the same preschool my brother, Dawson Triplitt, had attended. I had as good of language and academic skills as the other kids. At five years old, I attended kindergarten at my local neighborhood school, Maple Creek Elementary. I was active and playing sports throughout elementary school, junior high and now high school. 

I’ve played soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball and riding horses. I was attending school and making friends. I was growing up and going through the same struggles as other kids but had my own set of difficulties. For example, due to my Cochlear implant’s and different hearing, I’ve often had to sit closer to the front of the class and I’ve been teased and even made fun of for my disability. I have had kids not want to be my friends because I was different. But in reality, these struggles have helped make me the person I am today.

Courtesy Triplitt family

Toryn Triplitt meets with her first audiologist, Lisa Tonakawa, left, in Palo Alto, Calif., after receiving her first implant.

In 2006, the non-profit We Hear You (WHY) Foundation was informally started. The foundation was established by a group of experienced and caring parents all with children with hearing loss, who saw a need for support for families and children, and a need for better education options for deaf or hard of hearing kids.  It was incorporated as a 503c non-profit organization in March of  2007, which is when my mom decided to hop on board with the program to help other families through the same situation our family had faced.

“I joined because I saw it as an opportunity to continue to learn more about oral deaf education and to help other families whose children may have just been diagnosed with hearing loss,” Traci Triplitt said. “Because, when you first find out that your child is deaf or has hearing loss, you have questions about options for them. I experienced that there isn’t much support available especially in regards to oral deaf education.”

According to the We Hear You Foundation website, their goal is to support families and educators alike on supplying information about hearing loss and resources.

“We Hear You is a non-profit foundation established by a group of experienced, deaf-educated and caring parents, all of whom have children with hearing loss,” the website describes. “Our mission in the central San Joaquin Valley is to help deaf and hard of hearing children learn to listen and speak. We offer support to families, educators and professionals by providing information on hearing loss, communication options, education, and advocacy.”

Courtesy Triplitt family

Before undergoing her first implant surgery, Toyrn Triplitt meets with her surgeon, Joseph Roberson.

We Hear You’s executive board is made up of five women, one of them being my mom. They put on two social events, the Pizza Bash and a Family Picnic annually. WHY being a non-profit, means it gets all its funds from grants, donations, and annual fundraisers, including a Crab Feed. With this money they work to provide financial support, for families to travel for medical services, to provide loaner equipment to children so they will not be without auditory input.

The organization provides five auditory verbal therapy sessions once children have been implanted or aided, and can also help them continue therapy at discounted rates, if they need the financial support and are committed. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attending WHY events and volunteering at the fundraisers.

I’ve learned that having a disability can’t stop you from pursuing your dreams or becoming successful academically or physically. It’s all about setting goals for yourself. I compete in barrel racing, and riding horses has definitely taught me patience, perseverance, and hard work. I definitely owe my persistence in some part to being deaf and having to push myself to learn and be successful. Being disabled doesn’t have to hold you back, not unless you let it.

I hope to encourage other students and teens, whether they’re disabled or not. They can pursue their dreams and be successful in and out of the classroom if they apply themselves and persevere. I also hope to encourage them to be friends with everyone, even if they are “different.” But aren’t we all a little “different” in our own ways? So what should stop you from reaching out and being friendly to everyone? Friendships can be found all around you, and you can achieve your goals.

For more articles, read COLUMN: ‘FC Lifer’ shares one regret and COLUMN: The importance of pronunciation.

This author can be reached via Twitter @toryntriplitt and via email: Toryn Triplitt.

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