Shannon and Sherry Ball were overjoyed with the birth of their little girl Sarah in August 2010. She was a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby and seemed happy-go-lucky with her parents and the world until she was 2½ years old. “Sarah’s personality changed and she seemed to want to be alone and frequently cried,” says her father Shannon Ball. Their pediatrician suspected Sarah had a form of autism.
The Balls suspected something else when she did not respond to them and took Sarah to an ear, nose and throat specialist who diagnosed her with profound bilateral hearing loss. He explained that Sarah had lost her hearing due to enlarged vestibular aqueducts (EVA), a congenital structural disorder where fluid in the ears rushes through too fast decimating the fine sensory hair cells called stereocilia. These stereocilia convert sound into electrical signals to the brain and is a main cause of hearing loss in children.
The doctor recommended they move to Knoxville so Sarah could attend the Tennessee School for the Deaf because there were very few services for them in the Tri-Cities. Two days after diagnosis, the Ball family met another family whose daughter had just received cochlear implants. Sarah was first fitted with hearing aids and they began learning sign language. She received cochlear implants - tiny complex electronic devices - at Vanderbilt University Medical Center a few months later.
Shannon Ball says he will never forget Sarah’s first recognizable sound with cochlear implants. It happened at Creation Kingdom Zoo in Gate City, Virginia. Sarah was standing under a scarlet macaw when the bird shrieked. “Immediately she knew the bird had made that sound and signed to us,” says Shannon.
Determined to help other hearing-impaired children and their families, the Ball family established “Waiting to Hear” in 2014. It's a non-profit organization with the mission to “help deaf children hear.” They held their first fundraising event, called “Hear Me Roar,” at Creation Kingdom Zoo.
The fifth “Hear Me Roar” event will be held from 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11. Not only will all the animals at the zoo be on display, but there will also be 35 to 50 characters on hand to meet and pose for photos with children and adults. Costume clubs Mandalorian Mercs and 501st Legion will present Star Wars characters. Smokey Mountain Ghostbusters will have Ghostbusters. Once Upon a Party and Melinda’s Princess Parties will present Disney princesses, and Bam Pow Creations will have super heroes along with Paw Patrol and the Minions. The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine and Mutant Ninja Turtle Van will be on display by East Tennessee Tribute Rides. Enjoy a Disney princess sing-along and the Smokey and the Bandit lip-syncing policeman from West Virginia along with the famed Trans Am. Tickets are $15 for anyone ages 2 and up, and free for those under 2 with a paying adult. Extra parking with ongoing shuttle services and concessions will be provided.
Other fundraising events for Waiting to Hear include the Bionic Duck Derby on Oct. 13 in Council, Virginia, where patron-purchased rubber ducks will race down the Russell Fork River for chances to win prizes like a trip to Disney World. Dress up as your favorite character and attend the “Storm Trooper & Super Hero Ball” as part of Conapalooza at MeadowView Convention and Resort Center in Kingsport also on Oct. 13. Each June, the “Loud Shirt Gala and Auction” is held.
“Waiting to Hear is a 100 percent volunteer organization. We work closely with speech therapists, audiologists and students in those fields from East Tennessee State University,” says Shannon.
Waiting to Hear provides and supports services for deaf and hearing-impaired children including technologies like cochlear implants with a mobile hearing clinic, pediatric hearing aid bank program and parent resource library. A conference called “Breaking the Sound Barrier” for speech and hearing professionals is held annually. They have hold two camps: a week-long speech therapy and language enrichment day camp each June at Nave Center in Elizabethton for hearing-impaired children and “Camp H.E.A.R.” (Hearing Empowerment and Adventure Retreat) for kids and their families at Long View Ranch in Mosheim, Tennessee in September.
For more information about Waiting to Hear and their events, visit www.waitingtohear.org or find them on Facebook.