A Greta Home and Academy teen receives a life-changing gift from friends.
Sabrina’s eyes darted back and forth between the audiologist demonstrating how to use the tiny apparatus and the interpreter who was relaying instructions via sign language.
Encouraged by their reassuring smiles, she practiced inserting and removing the hearing aids. After a few calibration tests, the doctor asked her the question she had dreamed about countless times during the past 13 years.
“Sabrina, are you ready for the sound to be turned on?”
Nodding her head, she signed, “Thank you.”
“Can you hear me now?” the doctor prompted.
The teenager’s reaction was not immediate. There was no “aha” Hollywood-movie moment. Instead, Sabrina seemed to concentrate intently on what she was hearing—possibly bits of indistinguishable sounds she was experiencing for the first time.
Several seconds passed before a smile formed on Sabrina’s face. She listened for more sounds in the crowded examining room, where excited friends suggested someone play music for her on an iPod.
“Celine Dion is popular in Haiti,” one said. “Maybe Sabrina would like to hear Taylor Swift,” posed another.
It was the song “La Macarena” that did the trick. “I like it,” she signed to the interpreter, as she delighted onlookers by breaking into some nifty dance moves with her hands.
First sounds, first songs, first steps—all ushering Sabrina into the noisy but exhilarating world of the hearing. Don’t worry about this courageous young lady. She’s eager for the challenge.
Caring Hearts, Helping Hands
The journey has not been easy. Sabrina is used to confronting life’s hardships, and deafness was not her biggest hurdle. Like many of the children who come to the Greta Home and Academy in Haiti, Sabrina’s family lived in grinding poverty and had no means to take care of her.
A sympathetic aunt took Sabrina in, even though she had inadequate resources to provide for her own two children. Seeing no other recourse, the aunt eventually brought Sabrina and her cousins to the Greta Home, a project of Samaritan’s Purse.
Of the 62 full-time residents, Sabrina is the only child who is hearing-impaired. Samaritan’s Purse sent her to a special school in Port-au-Prince, where she learned sign language and gained self-confidence. This year she is attending a school for the deaf in Leogane that enables her to commute daily from the children’s home.Sabrina captured the heart of Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, for whom the Home and Academy is named, and her husband John Coale when the couple visited the children’s home last December. During the Christmas musical, Sabrina and another student performed a choreographed dance routine to the melody of “O Holy Night.”
Because she was unable to hear the beat, Sabrina relied on visually following the steps of the other girl, explained Jessica Langevin, who serves as program coordinator at the Greta Home and accompanied Sabrina to North Carolina. That meant her movements were a step behind. “Greta was taken aback when we told her Sabrina couldn’t hear the music.”
Van Susteren suggested Sabrina be brought to the United States for hearing evaluations to determine if hearing aids or cochlear implants could make a difference.
As it turned out, the process of getting Sabrina to America was no simple matter. Her biological mother had to grant permission, passports and visas needed to be obtained, and other government approvals made the months drag on. Finally, in mid-September, the excited teen was on a plane with Samaritan’s Purse staff, heading to our headquarters in Boone, North Carolina.
Making a dream come true requires teamwork, and Sabrina had an army of friends praying and contributing their time and talents on her behalf. Van Susteren covered Sabrina’s airfare. Blue Ridge Ear, Nose, and Throat, Inc., in Boone waived costs for doctors’ services and the hearing aids. And Liz Derrick, a local resident who has been involved in deaf ministry to children and adults for nearly four decades, welcomed Sabrina into her home.
The next two weeks became a whirlwind of new experiences. Sabrina and her chaperones took a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit Van Susteren. She was introduced to the Samaritan’s Purse staff during morning devotions. Best of all, the teenager reveled in going shopping, seeing a movie in the theater, hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and learning how to cook pancakes and French toast.
“It’s been good to see her experience new things and see her step out of her comfort zone,” Jessica said. “She had never eaten a tangerine before and was reluctant when I offered her one. When she finally tried it, she liked it. She also ate a strawberry for the first time, and now she likes them too.”
Turning Limitations into Opportunities
Liz Derrick, a retired teacher who has ministered to hundreds of hearing-impaired children and adults, jumped at the opportunity to be Sabrina’s host mom during her visit to Boone.
She has led the deaf ministry at their church in Boone for 35 years, serving as an interpreter and teaching Sunday school. Her late husband Buck, who passed away in 2014, served six terms as the physician for the U.S. team at the Deaflympics.
The couple also adopted two profoundly deaf children whose condition could not be remedied by hearing devices. Joel Marc was 22 months old. Joy, an orphan from South Korea, was 13.
“What Sabrina already can do with hearing aids is amazing to me,” Liz said, “things my deaf children never could. This new sense of hearing will hopefully make her more aware of her environment and bring her closer to the Lord.”
Liz and Buck encouraged their own hearing-impaired children to view disabilities as opportunities, not limitations. Liz recalled one time Joel Marc was given a writing assignment at school in which he was asked to compose an essay describing his handicap.
“Joel Marc has never thought of himself as handicapped or deprived,” she said. “So, for his essay he wrote about his struggles with allergies.”
The Next Step
Dr. Mary Markovich of Blue Ridge Ear, Nose, and Throat, Inc., praised her young patient, who has made steady progress since receiving the hearing aids. Within a couple of weeks or less she should be able to recognize the most commonly heard sounds.
“Sign language will always be her primary language,” the doctor explained, “but with speech therapy, she will be able to further adapt to the hearing world. What most of us take for granted is a wonderful new experience for Sabrina.”
Liz and Jessica have been teaching Sabrina to identify sounds—human voices, a car engine, the banging of a pot, and Sabrina’s favorite, music. It’s quite an adjustment for a child who was born with a 90 percent hearing loss. The roar of motorcycles still startles her.
“For a deaf person, their eyes have always served as their ears. Sabrina is very smart, and she is learning to localize sounds with the hearing aids, but it will take time,” Liz explained.
During her visit to the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters Sept. 24, Sabrina expressed her gratitude, signing “thank you” to everyone who has played a part in making her dream come true.
Armed with her hearing aids, a stockpile of batteries, and two unforgettable weeks in the United States, Sabrina headed back to Haiti Friday with a fresh awareness of the world and its endless possibilities.
“She is already a joyful young lady,” Liz said. “I hope the hearing aids will open her world to make it even more joyful and exciting.”
Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. . . .Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.—Mark 7:32-34