Learning to live in the hearing world

April 08, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

It may seem like a mild tornado whirling around in the Shoemaker household, but it's actually Cody, 7, and Sara, 21/2, being kids.

And the five family Chihuahuas at their ankles vying for attention.

Cody on his own is a handful.

When he was 4 years old, he had a cochlear implant operation to treat his profound deafness.

"He has pretty much normal hearing," said his mother, Michele Shoemaker, "but he needs to know how to understand."

She said Cody takes Dexedrine and Clonidine to counteract hyperactivity and behavioral problems that she thinks are connected to his hearing loss.

As trying as it is to discipline her son so often, Michele likes to think of what Cody has accomplished since he began to hear.


He can count from 1 to 10.

He learned the parts of a household - what a bathroom is, what a hair dryer is.

When Cody started school, he knew the letters C, O, D and Y. Now, he knows 21 letters, Michele has been told by his teacher. Michele isn't sure which ones he's missing.

Cody's cochlear implant operation was at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Nov. 17, 1999 - the same day Sara was born at Washington County Hospital, a few blocks from the Shoemakers' home.

An ABC news crew featured Cody and his operation on its show "Hopkins 24/7." The segment aired in September 2000.

An electronic stimulation device was implanted in Cody's head. It allows signals to reach his brain.

The only time Cody is deaf anymore is at night. That's when his parents remove the outer processor that converts sound into electrical impulses.

Michele Shoemaker isn't sure if Cody was born deaf. If he had any hearing, she said, it was lost when he was run over by a car in 1999. Michele said Cody got into her parents' car and put it in gear, then panicked and jumped out.

Cody was in a coma for a week. He had a broken nose, a collapsed and punctured lung and burns and tire marks on his body.

Since Cody's cochlear implant operation, the Shoemakers have rejoined the world of the spoken word. Cody and his parents, Richard, 39, and Michele, 29, no longer rely on sign language to reach each other.

"It depends what the situation is, but we don't use it a lot," Michele said.

Sara speaks more clearly than Cody, but Cody is more accurate - for example, when they're both asked the color of a toy.

During a recent interview, Michele prodded him.

What football teams do you like? (Colts and Ravens.)

What did you get when your tooth fell out? (A dollar.)

Who are your friends at school? (Kevin and Josh.)

"Say, 'Miss Weakland works hard with me,' " Michele urged Cody.

"Hod wook," Cody said softly. "Wook hod."

Cody had the day off from school. He was less interested in talking about himself than in showing off his Power Rangers and the pictures he colored, peeking at a digital camera monitor after each picture he posed for and playing a movie on the VCR. Cody and Mom battled over how high the sound on the TV should be.

Suddenly, it was a good time for a few flips and sideways rolls on the floor in the computer room.

Michele Shoemaker's patience is tested every day. If a wave of frustration comes, "I just go away to myself," she said. "I recollect my thoughts and go on.

"If I didn't have my husband, I wouldn't be able to go through this," she said.

Richard Shoemaker likes to let his thoughts get lost in the cars he tinkers with. He's been working on a metallic sapphire 1967 Ford Fairlane for about 10 years.

Richard said Cody likes to color and write, and he recently caught a catfish. But he acts out a lot.

"We got our hands full with him right now," Richard Shoemaker said.

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