The following post is a transcript of Melissa Stipech's speech at Listen and Talk's 2018 Auction.
Hello. Thanks everyone for coming. My name is Melissa Stipech. My daughter Penny is 5 years old and has been attending Listen and Talk for the last 2.5 years. This year we also chose to enroll her brother Miles who is 3, as a hearing peer in the full day/4 day a week class. My husband Andy is here with me (wave to Andy) and we live up by Granite Falls with our 3 dogs.
Facing hearing loss was something very far from what our family had ever expected, which I’m sure is the case for many parents when they get the news. Penny did have a unique history which had prepared us to look for anything out of the ordinary developmentally as she grew up.
One day, when I was 37 weeks pregnant with her, I realized that I had not felt her moving. As the day went on I began to grow more concerned and doing all the things doctors tell you to do in that situation, wasn’t bringing any results. We made the decision to jump in the car and drive to Evergreen Hospital where they hooked me up to fetal monitors. Although Penny did have a heartbeat my doctor, who was luckily on call that night, decided we needed to do a c-section because she wasn’t moving at all. As my doctor left to prepare for the surgery Penny’s heart stopped completely.
For me, a lot of what happened from there became a blur. Penny was delivered via a 90 second c-section still with no heartbeat. The doctors and nurses that were in the operating room that night will forever be our heroes. They wouldn’t give up on our little girl. They continued CPR for 17 minutes and when the time came for them to consider stopping they felt the need to call in my husband before they made any final decisions. They brought Andy in to explain what was happening all the while still trying to bring her back. In an instant that nobody there will ever forget, the nurse that was listening for a heartbeat suddenly yelled for everyone to just stop. She heard something... Our Penny came back to life after 26 minutes with no oxygen.
She was immediately rushed by ambulance to Swedish Hospital to be placed on a cold cap to essentially freeze her brain to stop any further damage. After 72 hours her cold cap was removed and we were told to expect the worst. Our baby, although alive, may never walk, talk or even be able to feed herself. Her MRI’s confirmed brain damage, we just did not know the extent. They told us that we would probably need to move to Seattle from Everett as she’d be in the NICU for many months. Penny was not having any of it. Every goal they threw at her, she achieved and then some. The doctors and nurses could not believe what they were seeing happen, but there we were after 3.5 weeks packing our bags to take our sweet girl home.
Penny’s first year was filled with milestone after milestone being met. She continued to amaze doctors and everyone around her, always with a giant smile on her face. At about 18 months old my gut began to grow concerned with her lack of vocabulary. She seemed to understand everything that was being said but often without any sort of verbal response. Both at her well check, and a visit with her neurologist these concerns were brushed off as “some kids just learn to speak later than others”. Until that point her doctors had never steered us wrong and so I trusted them when they said let’s wait until she turns 2.
As I’d suspected by her second birthday nothing had really changed and there we were visiting her neurologist again facing the reality that she’d need an MRI to re-check the status of the brain damage she had suffered at birth. We were to do a hearing test, only to “rule out” hearing loss as the cause. Well guess what? The audiologist came in with a grim look on her face to let me know that Penny had bilateral hearing loss. She was so apprehensive to tell me the news and all I wanted to hug her. For us, hearing loss was one of the better scenarios to be faced with. It was something tangible, that could be worked with. (not a vague diagnosis of brain damage or learning disability)
Suddenly, having a very fussy little newborn became the least of our problems. Penny only had about 8 months left at this point to be in the birth to three program and we were going to need all the therapy we could get so that she could be as caught up as possible. After being presented with 3 different options we knew without a doubt that Listen and Talk was going to be the best fit for our daughter.
I met Maura via Facetime to help us through the process and then along came Kelli, our in-home therapist. Kelli wasted no time in identifying what Penny was going to need and we immediately began to see the results. If you’d have walked into our house during that time you would’ve probably thought we were nuts with all the charts and lists of new words being spoken taped to our kitchen cabinets. These weekly visits quickly became something Penny would look forward to, although you wouldn’t always know it. If you’ve worked with Penny you know she marches to the beat of her own drum. If she doesn’t want to do it you better be prepared to get creative otherwise she won’t budge. Kelli adapted to every curve ball Penny threw her way and made sure she was as ready as she could possibly be to enter Pre-School on her third birthday.
Those first days at school were pretty rough. Penny was a home body and liked ‘her people’ all these new friends and new surroundings were quite a bit for her to take in. I remember thinking ‘man this Brittany teacher is kinda tough’. However, very quickly I saw how much Brittany was exactly the person that Penny needed in her life at that time. Her and Schotzi taught Penny that the outside world was an ok place and that learning was going to be fun. Penny very quickly became attached to them and loved going to school.
The following year Penny had Cary and Becky as her teachers. When I met Cary I remember thinking ‘She’s too nice!’ but again I found out that these we’re precisely the teachers that Penny needed in her life at that time. Cary and Becky taught Penny the importance of friendship. Over the course of the year we saw her begin to open up to the people around her. If you said Hi to her in the hallway you might actually get a response!
This year Penny has Rebecca and Kristin as teachers. I don’t know what you’ve done in there but we’ve suddenly found ourselves with a confidant, outgoing and most importantly outspoken child. She isn’t afraid to speak anymore, she doesn’t shy away from a conversation and she advocates for herself if she doesn’t feel you are understanding what she’s saying.
Over the course of these 2.5 years we have been seeing Christine as our SLP. There are no words to describe my gratitude for what you have given to Penny. I can’t even imagine how many countless hours you have put into making sure she meets every goal even if you have to trick her into it.
On a regular basis family and friends comment on how much she has grown and changed since attending Listen and Talk. It’s scary knowing we are going to be leaving this incredible school this year. I’d seriously keep her there forever if I could. What’s amazing though is the relationships we have made there will stay with us forever and I know we will be supported through this community over the years if and when we face challenges.