Deaf student proves doctors wrong; she's headed to Yale

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Campbell "Cami" Elizabeth Garland volunteers at her former school to help hearing-impaired children learn to speak full sentences.

"I thought it would be nice to help people who don't know how to talk," Garland, 19, said during a break at the school, St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in Chesterfield.

Garland was born with profound binaural sensorineural hearing loss, something doctors diagnosed when she was about 4 months old. If an airplane took off next to her, it would sound like shuffling papers.

Doctors told her parents she would never learn to talk without attending a special school. They said she would never go to a regular school.

Garland graduated last month from St. Joseph Academy in Frontenac with over a 4.0 grade point average, the only deaf student out of 630 girls at the private Roman Catholic school. She has been accepted at Yale University, where she plans to study archaeology and history.

Garland is both determined and driven to succeed, said her former principal, Sister Joyce Buckler, who now serves as interim principal at St. Joseph Institute. "Little kids relate to her," the principal said. "Our children are very interested in knowing what older deaf children are doing."

Barb Meyers, who teaches in the preschool room at the institute where Garland volunteers, remembers when Garland first arrived. The Garland family had moved to St. Louis from Baton Rouge, La., just so Cami Garland, then 4, could attend St. Joseph Institute.

Tantrums and screaming

She wore hearing aids. She spoke no words. She threw tantrums. She screamed when she needed to communicate, Meyers said.

Meyers would send a journal home with Garland. Meyers would write a sentence and draw a picture of something Garland did at school. Garland's parents would point to the drawings and ask her about them.

At first Garland responded with "abba abba." After a few months when she saw a picture of a ghost, she said "Boo." When she saw a witch, she said, "Hee, hee."

Any degree of hearing loss makes it difficult for a child to learn to read, write and talk.

It is not enough for a hearing-impaired child to learn just words. The child also needs to learn to use words in sentences and to visualize what words mean. Garland recently held a toy hamburger and toy french fries in front of a 3-year-old at St. Joseph Institute. She asked the boy, "Would you like a hamburger or french fries?" He said, "I want a hamburger." She handed him the toy.

With the help of her parents and teachers, Garland learned many words, and language gave her power.

Most students with hearing disabilities used to stay at St. Joseph through the eighth grade. Some still do. Garland, however, knew enough to transfer to a regular school, St. Luke's School in Richmond Heights, in the third grade. In the fourth grade she moved to her parish school, Our Lady of the Pillar in Creve Coeur. She graduated from that school in the eighth grade at the top of her class.

Garland's world changed in sixth grade when doctors implanted 22 electrodes in her head behind the ear. The device, called a cochlear implant, stimulates the auditory nerve to restore partial hearing.

For the first time Garland could hear the rustle of leaves, the swish of a dishwasher, the difference between "time" and "dime."

Last fall she wrote in her application to Yale that meeting new people and rigorous academics are parts of her life she loves.

"I'm confident because of all the obstacles I've already overcome, that I can make it at Yale," Garland wrote.

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