Sunday, March 29, 2009

I witnessed a miracle (why I believe in God)

My son Jeff’s 20th birthday was yesterday. I called him on his cell phone and left a message. I assumed he was at work in Austin, Texas, raising cash for his April rent payment. An hour later, he returned my call and said he was on his lunch break. I wished him a happy birthday and, not wanting to take up all of his short food recess, we finished the conversation in two or three minutes.

Talking on the phone may seem like something that’s to be taken for granted, but for me, this conversation—and every conversation with Jeff—is quite special. That’s because Jeff was born hearing impaired.

My first wife, Lisa, and I were pretty experienced parents, having had three children before Jeff was born. With each one, we’d count fingers and toes and hope that we had a healthy baby. When Jeff was born, we went through the same ritual and, sure enough, he had the requisite ten fingers and ten toes and all the rest of the standard equipment, all in the right places.

Unlike his brother, Danny, who was a colicky baby, Jeff was generally calm and happy and started sleeping though the night very early on. On a side note, we discovered that the two best remedies for colic are 1) a ride in the car, and 2) running the vacuum cleaner. I used to keep the vacuum cleaner in the hall outside Dan’s bedroom at night with the power cord strung into our bedroom. After one of us would make sure that he wasn’t wet or hungry or otherwise in distress, I would reach over and plug in the cord. Five minutes later, I’d pull the plug and hear nothing but the sounds of a sleeping baby. Our neighbors must have wondered about our unusual house cleaning schedule.

It was this parenting experience that caused Lisa to suspect that something wasn’t right about Jeff when he was only a month old. There was a difference in the way he reacted to her. The look on his face when she cooed at him and spoke babytalk just wasn’t what she was used to. She tried clanging a pot behind him and he didn’t flinch.

That was enough for her to know that he wasn’t hearing her. Lisa made an appointment with Jeff’s pediatrician, who arranged to perform a tympanogram. This is a test that measures the resonance of an eardrum and can detect the presence of conductive problems, which generally relate to fluid behind the eardrum, scarring of the eardrum, or malformed conduction bones.

The test did not reveal any unusual pressure or fluid behind Jeff’s eardrums. We would have been relieved if it had. These problems are routinely treated and generally result in no long lasting problems. Instead, we were referred to the Callier Center at the University of Texas at Dallas (http://www.callier.utdallas.edu/).

Jeff was tested on May 4, 1989 at the Callier Center, when he was only five weeks old. His hearing loss was determined to be bilateral (both ears) moderate to severe peripheral auditory impairment. (Click here to see the test results.) The audiologist told us that his hearing loss was on the order of 70 decibels. She characterized his threshold of hearing, which most of us experience as the soft breathing of someone in a quiet room with us, being the equivalent of standing close to a passing train.

With this extent of hearing loss, she told us that, even with hearing aids, he would not be able to distinguish subtleties in sounds. Speech therapy would be necessary and she warned that we should not expect his speech to ever be “normal.”

The next step was to fashion a set of hearing aids for Jeff. He was the youngest hearing aid patient ever treated at the Callier Center. Most parents, certainly first-time parents, would never have recognized the symptoms of hearing loss at such an early age.

Now we have to turn the clock back to Christmas, 1988. Lisa was pregnant with Jeff and we spent part of the day with her grandparents, Estill and Becky. Grandma Becky was not feeling well but was an expert at hiding it. We all knew she was scheduled to have heart surgery and that reality loomed over the festivities.

A short time later, Grandma Becky went through her surgery and there were complications. She remained in the hospital for a lengthy stay, all of us on pins and needles as she went through the peaks and troughs of recovery. Her prognosis, unfortunately, turned from hopeful to unpromising. I don’t recall if she was in the hospital on Jeff’s birthday, March 28th, but I do remember that she was hospitalized at the time we got the news about Jeff’s deafness.

In June, 1989, Lisa and her parents got permission to bring baby Jeff into the ICU to see Grandma Becky. I waited in the lobby with the rest of the family. When they emerged from the elevator a half hour later, Lisa told me that Grandma Becky was awake and happy to see Jeff. She had been previously made aware of his deafness, his trips to the Callier Center, and his prognosis.

She was also aware of her own prognosis and knew she wasn’t going to return to her home in Dallas. But she was pragmatic about that reality and was also deeply religious. She announced, in front of Lisa and Lisa’s parents, that when she went to heaven, she would have a talk with God about Jeff’s hearing loss.

Grandma Becky died on June 30, 1989.

Several weeks later, Lisa recovered little Jeffy from his crib, changed and fed him, and popped open the box that contained the tiniest little hearing aids you’ve ever seen. This had become a daily ritual, but this time Jeff protested when she inserted his hearing aids. Thinking that he might just be crotchety for some other reason, she didn’t think too much about his reaction.

Later in the day, she once again tried to insert the hearing aids. Jeff would have nothing to do with it, this time protesting even louder. That’s when it occurred to Lisa that something must be going on. She returned to her pots and pans experiment and Jeff not only reacted, but was startled and cried. “What the heck are you doing surprising me like that, Mom?” If only he could talk...

When the specialists at Callier Center reran the tests on Jeff, they found his hearing to be at 90% of normal. Checking back through the original test results and diagnosis, there was nothing that indicated a problem with either. There was simply no explanation, from a biological point of view, for his miraculous recovery.

We, of course, know that there is an explanation.

Thank you, Grandma Becky.



Jeff, on the right, with me and his colicky older brother, Danny.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

9 comments:

  1. fantastic! your distant cousin, Danielle (Hunt) Cathey

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  2. Randy: I very much hope you are right about there being a God. But........

    Poignant story!

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  3. Good Morning Mr. Hunt it is with deep appreciation and personal experience that I repond to your Miracle upon which your Son was able to receive his hearing back. During my early days on this earth I was introduced to many of the child hood inflications from whooping cough,mumps,measles and scarlet fever,only in my case I managed to get them all at about the same time. Back in those days they placed you in the hospital under quarintee.
    So at the age of 4 I would be released [The day of the 1938 hurricane] after spending a year in the hospital. I would come out deaf in both ears and needles to say a rather alarming period in my young life time. I would remain deaf until the age of 10, where I had undergone multiple testing and even began reading lips to communicate. It was a continued period of pain, as no one was able to explain the reasons why.

    Some where along the way my Mother was able to find some help for me and as though a miracle occurred for your son I also was blessed to get most of my hearing back as well. As I get older the hearing is failing once again , but the gift of not hearing during my younger years has made me a little tougher, so I except, what once again may occurr. Reading lips is not as easy, but at least I can see deep into the souls of those I communicate with. Facial expressions help me to determine the character of the person, a little philosophic meaning through a lesson of life.

    Yes it is a miracle from above to speak, hear,see and walk this earth. Sometimes we all suffer some. but in the end we all become a little stronger for the experience and I know from personal experience that your son will become appreciative of his expeience and become tougher on the inside for it.

    We all should beleive in GOD

    Ca Johansen

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story, Carl. The way that something like this affects your life is quite extraordinary. Certainly, as you point out, there is a direct and lifelong impact for the person struggling with the disability.

    From a parent’s perspective, there is a similar life changing effect. In our case, we had had three children, all without any maladies other than the typical childhood diseases. We had never been challenged to face something this serious before.

    I had always wondered how I would react to the situation of a child being born with a deformity, deafness, blindness, Downs Syndrome, etc. When Jeff was born, we initially thought that we had, once again, escaped the difficulties surrounding such a disability.

    When we found out about Jeff’s permanent hearing loss, we didn’t even pause for a minute thinking “why us” or anything self-centered like that. We asked questions. We read books. We prepared ourselves to assist Jeff in any way that we could to make sure he would have the best opportunities possible to live with his disability.

    I took a different job that promised to allow more time for our family. There was no looking back; only looking forward to meet the challenges that lay ahead.

    Of course, we were blessed to have this struggle removed from us by divine intervention, but that few months of dealing with what was to become a lifelong challenge taught us a great deal about ourselves.

    From that point on, I never fretted about how I was going to react to something happening to my kids or any loved one. I knew how I would handle the situation.

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  5. Randy, thank you for sharing yet another meaningful event in your life. This particular miracle - which I accept in a very matter of fact way since I know they happen and that there is a good God who exists - was particularly touching. Your generosity in sharing is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to take a second look at events in our lives that seem impossible ........ and wonder why!

    But the only problem with your posts is that I have to wait an interminable seven days for the next one!

    Pat Stebbins

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  6. Randy:
    You and I were indeed not lucky, but blessed, to have four wonderful, happy, healthy children. I hold the "Deaf Jeff" story close to my heart and appreciate its glorious outcome everytime one of our kids answers the phone and can hear us, everytime one of our crazy sons writes an outrageous song and is able to hear and describe it to us, everytime one of our children hears their name being announced at a graduation ceremony. It touches my heart now, more than ever, that they can hear the laughter of their own children.

    Many times we go through life not appreciating all that is given to us, but expecting it to "just be right", then we are sidelined by a blow that comes from out of nowhere. We all wonder what we would do if it were us. It is easy to be a bystander and preach that we would do this or we wouldn't do that, but truth be told, you don't know what you're made of until it does happen to you.

    There is just one thing that I would add to this story. When you raise chilren you hope and pray that you are doing the right things, giving them the right advice, setting the right examples in order for them to grow up strong, healthy, and secure. Randy and I found out early on that we apparently were doing a pretty good job. When our older kids were told about Jeffy, there was NEVER a time that we heard, "what about me", or "he's always getting the attention". We told the kids that Jeffy had to learn in a differnt way than they did and we would all have to learn how to talk to him. We had a friend who knew sign language who came over to teach us. Sarah, Danny, and even little Gayle couldn't wait to learn it and to teach it to their new little brother! I know Randy would agree with me, never once did we see one selfish action or hear one selfish remark. The children united together to help the other...and it continues to this day...

    ...through adversity grows love, patience, and acceptance.

    I am thankful everyday that we did have this experience with our Jeffy. He made me appreciate all that I do have, accept anything that might come along, and the knowledge that my family will be there NO MATTER WHAT. Sarah, Daniel, Gayle, and Jeffrey we love you very much. You are the very best blessings of our lives.

    Grandma Becky, you are Jeffy's guardian angel...keep safe watch over him. I love you.

    Lisa

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  7. I am very happy to see my old classmate so blessed! Randy, you were always cool-headed and even-keeled. If you are half as talented as an accountant that you are as a writer, you will earn a fortune.

    Regarding defects, I believe we ALL have areas of unique talents, even genius, while also possessing huge weaknesses that cripple us in some way.

    Stephen Hawking is a leading physicist but cannot walk or talk. My artistic development was apparently severely retarded because I can't draw worth a hoot! I'll wager that you parachute a smarty pants like Bill Gates into the deepest jungle and he'd probably starve unless helped by the "simple and uneducated" natives.

    Personally, I think the worst yet most common disablity is a hard heart. I see it all the time, especially in the mirror.

    You are a rich man, my friend. I am proud and inspired by the successful path which you have taken. May God keep you and yours upon it always!

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  8. Hi Randy,

    When not in Sandwich, Nancy and I attend Mass at the Newman Center at Umass in Amherst, Ma where we spend the winter months when the motel is closed. This past Sunday we met the receipient of the healing miracle that resulted in the recent Beatification of Cardinal Newman and the receipient of the healing miracle of St. Faustina's Beatification. Both of these people are Massachusetts residents. Miracles happen, some are just more publicized than others.
    Thanks for publicizing yours,

    Brian J Clifford

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