by: Carol Hammond, St. David's Center
Beatriz (Bia) and Jeff’s St. David’s Center story spans both continents and decades. They met while working at the same global company, and Brazilian-born Bia moved to Minnesota to marry Jeff in 2014. The birth of daughter Ana followed in 2017. “We always had in mind we wanted two kids,” recalls Bia. “We had Ana — amazing, lots of work, just like everybody else — but we were ready for the next one. And then Cecilia came!” The decision to place both girls in St. David’s Center’s early childhood education program was a natural one, given that Jeff’s older children – now nineteen and twenty-three – both attended preschool there. Almost twenty years later, “it was automatic that Bia and I wanted our two kids in St. David’s,” says Jeff, reflecting on the pivotal event that compelled him to seek out St. David’s Center for his older children. “When I was a little kid in church school, there was a little boy there and he didn’t have arms. He used to draw with a crayon in his toes. I’ll never forget that. I was always amazed by that experience,” he remembers. “And I thought because St. David’s helps so many different kids, of different needs and different issues, I want my kids to be in that kind of an environment where they see that there are opportunities for those kids, too.” Little did he realize that St. David’s Center would one day provide a place for his own child with special, unique needs to thrive.
When Cecilia was born, she was whisked away for the standard hearing test given to newborns. “She failed the first one,” recollects Bia. “She went for the next one, and she also failed.” Initially, Jeff and Bia were hopeful that the results of these early tests were temporary. Says Jeff, “There’s always that little dangling of hope that maybe something will change.” However, cautious optimism gave way to stark reality as further in-depth testing revealed the severity of Cecilia’s hearing loss. “You see that picture-perfect kid, extremely smart, and you say, ‘Shoot. She cannot hear me.’ When Ana was crying, I’d sing her a song and she’d stop crying. With Cecilia, nothing really worked. So, we have to find other directions.” These alternate paths led them to the University of Minnesota Lions Ear Clinic and into the hands of a trusted audiologist. A three-month trial of hearing aids was unsuccessful in restoring any semblance of hearing for Cecilia, at which point their audiologist suggested that Cecilia might be a good candidate for cochlear implants.
Despite the significant learning curve for both parents, they were ready to tackle this new challenge. “I started to dive in to understand,” asserts Bia. “As a mother, I was not [focused on getting] angry or upset or to figure out, ‘Why me, God?’ I [wanted] to figure out what’s next.” And what came next was an astounding combination of faith, fortitude, science, and technology. As Bia and Jeff learned, a cochlear implant is an implanted electronic hearing device, designed to mimic the function of a healthy inner ear (or cochlea). Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the hearing nerve. The cochlear implant system consists of a receiver implanted under the skin behind the ear which sends signals to electrodes placed in the inner ear, and an external sound processor that fits behind the ear, held in place by a magnet.
Despite the potential for a promising outcome, the decision to proceed was not an easy one. Not only would Cecilia have to endure surgery, but the procedure in effect would destroy any residual hearing in the implanted ears. As Jeff states, “The difficulty with the surgery is you have this hope that she’s going to hear, but (with the surgery) you actually are making her permanently deaf. It’s a very difficult decision.” Ultimately, citing their implicit trust in Cecilia’s medical team and the technological advancements grounding the procedure, they chose to proceed with the implants, and just after turning one, Cecilia underwent the surgery.
The results were immediate and astonishing. “August 5th was the first day that they actually turned the implant on. We went to the clinic and they turned it on and [immediately] started seeing some reactions. We were all thrilled.”
With their elation came the understanding that there was some hard work ahead, as successfully using a cochlear implant requires extensive therapy and training. Not only were there continual adjustments to the implants to ensure the sound was neither too loud nor too soft, but Bia and Jeff had to make sure that Cecilia kept the processors on around the clock. “She kept reaching up and knocking off the receivers. For the three first months I was following her all the time. It was a real struggle in the beginning,” recounts Bia. Adds Jeff, “Their brains are developing all this time, so you’ve got to keep them on and keep them hearing” – no easy task for the parent of an active one-year-old.
All their hard work has paid off. At a recent checkup with Cecilia’s audiologist, Bia says, “You could almost see tears in her eyes and she said ‘Bia, do you know that Cecilia is the dream of every audiologist? She’s hitting all milestones.’” Jeff concurs, “We know that she can hear like everybody else. She’s basically just like any other kid.” For Bia, Cecilia’s transformation is nothing short of miraculous, in every sense of the word. “I feel extremely blessed,” she says. “She wasn’t able to hear anything and now she can.”
This is where Jeff and Bia’s St. David’s Center story comes back full circle, to the deeply held conviction that first brought them through the doors – a commitment to entrust the wellbeing of their children to a place that embraces and nurtures children of all abilities. Cecilia is currently enrolled in St. David’s Center’s early childhood education program – along with big sister Ana – and her parents revel in the support that surrounds them all as Cecilia navigates her new auditory world. “The support that the teachers are giving and all the patience – the approach with us was just amazing,” Bia says. “When I think about St. David’s, I think about everyone inside of St. David’s. They are extremely qualified. It’s the real deal. I love St. David’s so much!”
Cecilia’s story with St. David’s Center is just beginning, with the next chapter opening as she starts speech therapy onsite. “I think it’s going to be perfect because having the teachers, the speech therapy, everything there, the communication…for us, it’s a perfect world,” says Bia. For Jeff and Bia, this story definitely has a happy ending – for both of their children – thanks in large part to St. David’s Center. “Once they’re in, they are well set for the future,” Bia proclaims. Echoes Jeff, “We can’t say enough praise for St. David’s.”
Jun. 30, 2022