Traveling bear visits Lititz

By on September 5, 2012

By: JANET SCOUTEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Maggy Parsons and Hannah Bearowitz

Tourists are not uncommon in the borough of Lititz; however, these visitors are usually human, not bears. Last week, a world-traveling teddy bear named Hannah Bearowitz came to visit local fifth-grader Margaret "Maggy" Parsons through the Traveling Awareness Bears program.

The purpose of Traveling Awareness Bears is "to spread awareness around the world about different disabilities, disorders and syndromes, while providing love and encouragement towards children." Each of teddy bears in the program has a "diagnosis," and the bears visit children all over the world who share a similar condition.

Like Hannah Bearowitz, Maggy Parsons is deaf, and she plans to bring her furry visitor with her to John Beck Elementary School to teach friends and classmates about their shared disability. According to Maggy, her diagnosis hasn’t slowed her down in any way. She reports a fun and busy life, filled with school and activities, and she is able to communicate with friends and family members with ease.

Maggy’s mother, Kristen Parsons, says, "Oh, Maggie is a talker. People are always surprised to learn that she’s deaf."

Although many hearing impaired people, as well as teddy bears like Hannah Bearowitz, use hearing aids to amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears, Maggy was diagnosed at three-months-old as profoundly deaf, and hearing aids would not help her.

Instead, Maggy hears through the help of a cochlear implant that she has worn since she was 12-months-old. Cochlear implants are devices that bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which then recognizes the signals as sound.

The implant is a device with several parts, including a small exterior headpiece that is worn behind the ear. Magnets hold it in place over the receiver, which has been surgically positioned under the skin. A microphone then picks up sounds from the environment, and a transmitter sends the sounds to the speech processor, which is tucked behind one ear. Maggy’s speech processor is hot pink, one of her favorite colors.

She is very matter-of-fact about her implant, and says she doesn’t mind when kids ask: "What’s that thing on your ear?"

Whenever they ask, she responds simply, "It’s my cochlear implant!"

Before the start of every school year, Maggy meets with her new teacher and gives a presentation about her condition.

As her mother says, "Maggy is her own best advocate."

Using PowerPoint with photos and text, Maggy walks her teachers step-by-step through a personal introduction:

"Hi. I’m Margaret Parsons. My ears do not work like yours," the presentation begins. It then goes on to explain: "I am like everyone else. I like to ride horses, play on my wii and ride roller coasters!"

Her presentation shows a picture of Maggy as a baby with the caption: "This is the first time I ever heard sound. I was one." In the picture, a blonde-haired baby is wailing with tears running down her cheeks, as if stunned by a new dimension of experience.

The slide moves from this momentous life event through a no-nonsense order of business, explaining the difference between cochlear implants and hearing aids, and informing the teacher about the FM system she uses in class:

"The teacher wears a microphone so it helps me hear her voice over all the other voices. This helps me because sometimes the classroom can get noisy."

Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing, and it takes time for people to learn or re-learn to understand what sounds mean. For those who receive early implantation like Maggy, early exposure to sounds can help during the critical stage of development when children acquire speech and language skills. Recognizing this fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowered the age of eligibility in 2000 to 12 months for one type of cochlear implant.

With Hannah Bearowitz by her side, Maggy will start the school year ready to learn, have fun and make friends. And after their two-week visit ends, she will send her visitor on to another child with hearing loss somewhere else in the world. She will share their story in the binder that travels with Hannah, telling of visits to a chocolate factory, a pretzel bakery and even a Teddy Bear Day in the park (this coming Saturday).

And though Hannah the Traveling Bear might leave Lititz with a few chocolate smudges, this furry friend will also carry the memories of Maggy, helping another child somewhere far away know what a fun and full life a child with hearing loss can live.

"This bear’s going to go all over the world," says Maggy.

To learn more about the Traveling Awareness Bears, visit: More MAGGY, page A15

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