Persistence Pays Off
For the past eight autumns, sixteen-year-old Zach’s Friday nights have looked similar. After school, he puts on his football uniform and hits the field with his teammates. He lives for the rush of running the line and tackling the quarterback. For a fan cheering him on in the stands, Zach looks just like every other teen on the field. But Zach isn’t like the others. What the fans can’t see are the hearing aids camouflaged under his helmet. Zach has worn them since he was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss as a baby, but they haven’t held him back from success.
Zach’s birth wasn’t easy. He spent more than two weeks in the NICU due to myriad medical issues and complications. His parents, Tammie and Keith, passed hours by his side, holding his tiny hand, reading him stories, and telling him that they loved him. As he was finally being discharged, his doctor told them that Zach had failed the newborn hearing screening, which they didn’t even know he’d had. Their doctor advised them not to worry as many newborns failed and didn’t end up with a diagnosis of hearing loss. Tammie wondered if he’d heard any of her “I love yous.”
Two weeks later, Tammie and Keith brought Zach to a pediatric audiologist for an auditory brainstem response test (ABR). The ABR is a painless test that measures the softest sound a baby can hear. Tammie held Zach in her arms for the two hours it took to complete the evaluation. “Then the audiologist came in and told us that Zach had a severe to profound hearing loss,” said Tammie. “It felt like time stopped.”
"HE’S LIVING PROOF THAT LISTENING AND SPOKEN LANGUAGE WORKS." —Keith, Zach’s dad
“When we found out the news, we were petrified,” said Keith. “Did we need to go learn sign? What did we need to do to be the best parents for him? We loved going to the lake. We loved camping. We loved doing certain things and we didn’t know how his hearing loss would affect our family life.”
Even though the shock of his diagnosis still lingered, Tammie and Keith immediately began to evaluate Zach’s communication options. They considered their dreams for Zach and all the activities, professions, and relationships they hoped would be available to him in the future. They decided that Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) would give him the best chance of achieving them.
"BE THE SQUEAKY WHEEL UNTIL YOU GET THE SERVICES YOU NEED." —Keith, Zach’s dad
Getting hearing aids for their newborn was the first step, but it was a challenging one. The insurance company initially denied their claim. Tammie called the company day after day until she found a supervisor who would listen to her. “Persistence is key,” she said. “Try to tell your story and relate to the insurance company representative on a human level. Ask them if they have kids or grandkids. Tell them that you want your child to grow up to have every opportunity, to be self-sufficient, to be a successful adult, and in order to do that, they need early amplification as soon as possible to start getting all the rich vocabulary in their brain.” Tammie’s persistence paid off and Zach received hearing aids.
"WHAT REALLY HELPED WAS SPEAKING TO HIM ALL THE TIME WHEN HE WAS A BABY. JUST GIVING HIM A CONSTANT INPUT OF VOCABULARY. TALKING, LAUGHING, AND HAVING FUN TOGETHER. " —Tammie, Zach’s mom
From that point on, Tammie and Keith threw themselves into giving Zach the language-rich environment he needed in order to build his listening and speaking skills. Tammie worked at a job with flexible hours, so that she could spend time reading to Zach and his two-year-old sister, Brittany. “What really helped with Zachary was just being a radio commentator,” said Tammie. “Speaking to him all the time even when we were eating or changing his diaper. Just the constant input of vocabulary, just continuing to talk and laugh and have fun together.” His parents’ early dedication to LSL helped build the strong foundation for Zach’s success as a teenager.
Zach and Tammie talk at the end of the day.
Today, the All-American teen has a quiet confidence that many adults would envy and a resume that most teens can only imagine. Last year, he achieved Eagle Scout status by rebuilding a sorely needed bridge in his community. He’s a member of the National Honor Society as well as a camp counselor at the local YMCA. But he’s also a typical teen, squeezing in a game of Call of Duty on his Xbox before studying for exams.
Most important for Tammie and Keith, they know that Zach hears every “I love you” they tell him, something they didn’t know would be possible when he was newly diagnosed as a baby. “I had a lot of anxiety. I had a lot of fear and I felt like I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen in the future,” said Tammie. “Today, I’d tell parents to take a deep breath, to hold their child, to love their child. It’s going to be ok.”