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June 10, 2011  BY Al Germond

This is a story I’m going to call “Jack’s Three Miracles.” Among the small group that gathered in Bethel Park on May 6, 2001, to celebrate Jack’s second birthday, I already knew he wasn’t hearing very well. Tests showed Jack’s hearing was deficient, compounded by an imbalance between his left and right ears. Jack was fitted with a pair of powerful hearing aids, and even a 50,000-watt model couldn’t have brought his hearing up to a level most of us take for granted.

Al Gernmond

Statistically, up to six children per thousand are born deaf or are eventually stricken with partial or total loss of hearing. The ability to hear and distinguish sounds is so absolutely essential for speech development and all of its corollaries in a child’s early years that the need to rescue Jack’s hearing was both urgent and immediate.

Jack’s first miracle was the Moog Center for Deaf Education. Founded 15 years ago in St. Louis by Jeanne Moog with the support of recognized speech language pathologists and audiologists, Moog centers are now open in Chicago, Cincinnati, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Albuquerque and Columbia.

The decision to open the Moog School in Columbia a decade ago was mostly speculative though perhaps spurred by the parents of several area deaf children who had requested information. Some were prepared to move closer to a particular center — in this case St. Louis — based on the school’s success with their deaf charges. Self-described as the place where deaf children learn to talk, the Moog Center’s Columbia branch opened Sept. 10, 2001, in rented quarters in the Evangelical Free Church on Silvey Lane. Judy Harper has been the director since its inception.

Jack was among the half-dozen entering pioneers. Notes of Jack’s progress showed immediate improvement in his ability to recognize words and language patterns, as he developed the ability to talk and enunciate clearly. Jack was beginning to catch up to his peers.

Crises came along for the adults to deal with. There were insurance issues. State education officials squawked about accrediting the Moog Center’s Columbia program. Then officials in the local public school bureaucracy churned their beefs — perhaps in selfish envy — about this innovative interloper from St. Louis that was challenging their conventional wisdom about deaf education.

As for Jack, on May 23, 2002, tests showed there was complete hearing loss in one of his ears. Less than a week later, the other ear went silent. It was clearly time for a cochlear implant, which became Jack’s second miracle.

On June 26, 2002, Jack underwent a four-hour cochlear implant operation at the University of Missouri Children’s Hospital and was released the following day. On July 29, 2002, Jack’s implant was switched on. Now progress came more rapidly as Jack swung into his second year at the Moog School. A few months later, Jack was well enough along to command “Sit down, Al!” And I willingly obeyed.

The human body is a fantastic assemblage of interconnected electrical systems. More elegant than massed copper wires and the associated appliances of mankind’s creation, the cochlear implant is our humble way of connecting a microphone and an amplifier to the cochlea, which is the audio input to the brain itself.

Researchers have understood the concept for years. Theoretically possible from the days of the earliest vacuum tubes more than a century ago, this amazing device became practical only in the past few years with the advent of micro-circuitry and just in time to help Jack hear.

A weekend out of town the following spring turned into a life-threatening nightmare when we almost lost this brave crusader. This was Jack’s third miracle. Rushed back to Columbia on April 21, 2003, with what was eventually diagnosed as bacterial meningitis, the following day was a rough one for Jack and all those around him because he clearly wasn’t getting any better. Some of us thought Jack wasn’t going to make it.

Jack was admitted to Children’s Hospital, and, as it turned out, it was just in time. Its specialized knowledge and modern antibiotics reversed Jacks decline. Moved out of intensive care a few days later, Jack came home on April 30, 2003, and was soon just as active as other boys his age.

Jack moved through the Moog Center and into Columbia’s 100-year-old Grant School. He is as bright, alert and talkative as any one of his peers, and he nurtures interests ranging from Cardinal baseball, golf and bird watching. Jack celebrated his 12th birthday a few weeks ago. Last week at Grant School’s fifth-grade commencement exercises, Jack walked away with a special award from the American Legion.

If there’s a bittersweet ending to this tale, it’s the fact that the Moog Center has closed its Columbia operation. Although it’s heartening to know Moog’s staff of teachers and assistants have been hired by the Columbia Public Schools in their efforts to replicate the Moog program, the apparent arrogance of the public school system relative to special or innovative programs that aren’t of their doing is very troubling.

For 10 years Columbia’s Moog Center represented a real fillip to the range of this area’s educational opportunities. I hope they return some day and that the local educational establishment will inoculate itself with more tolerance for eclectic innovation from outside. This is what a university community is all about, and the Columbia Public School system needs to get used to it.