When Katelyn Bouchard was born 12 years ago, she failed the screening test for a hearing disorder.
But her eyes were lively, and quick to react. Her parents did not think anything was wrong.
But a second test 5 months later showed profound hearing loss. “She couldn’t hear a jet engine if it was next to her,” says Katelyn’s mother Gen.
Gen — a former hedge fund executive who now owns Scout & Molly’s in Playhouse Square — and her husband contacted Diane Shannon. The longtime Westporter is a birth-to-3 service coordinator at Soundbridge, a regional program providing resources and services to children with hearing loss.
Diane explained 2 options: sign language and cochlear implants. The couple chose the latter.
Cochlear implants are electronic devices. Unlike hearing aids — which amplify sounds — implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear, to send sound signals to the brain.
Katelyn had her 1st implant at 10 months. Used to a world of silence, she tried to throw it off her face.
But Diane began working with Katelyn. She started from the ground up, introducing sounds, words and sentences.
Katelyn’s sister Solenne arrived 15 months later. Her parents knew then that — despite no family history of hearing loss — their newborn had a 1-in-4 chance of the genetic disorder.
Tests revealed that she too suffered hearing loss. She too would have implants.
Katelyn’s other implant was done the same day Solenne had 2. At 10 months, she was one of the first children that young to have surgery on both ears simultaneously.
At first, Solenne was very sensitive to sound. Once again, Diane patiently helped the Bouchards’ baby adapt to a new environment.
“We could hardly wait for them to start saying words,” Gen recalls. “Now they don’t stop talking.”
The girls have thrived. Katelyn — a 7th grader at Bedford Middle School — plays lacrosse. Solenne is a 5th grader at Saugatuck Elementary School; she plays basketball. Both are excellent students.
Though the only sign of cochlear implants are processors, “kids are kids,” Gen says. “Sometimes they ask, ‘What’s that on your ear?’ The girls just explain.”
Katelyn and Solenne are strong advocates for themselves. In loud environments, they’re not embarrassed to ask someone to repeat what’s been said.
Otherwise, their lives are no different from many other Westport youngsters.
But they — and their mother — have not forgotten the importance of helping other hearing-impaired kids.
Every year, Scout & Molly’s picks a non-profit to help. Last month, the store offered a silent auction, raffle items and refreshments, to support the Hearing Health Foundation.
The organization provided educational materials — including information on how to prevent hearing loss. (One way: Turn down the loud music!)
Katelyn and Solenne were there.
Then they went back to their own active, well-rounded — and sound-filled — lives.
Diane Shannon, a former colleague, is the reason both of my children (eventually) had tubes in their ears. It was her dogged persistence to encourage me to find a specialist when the pediatrician said further testing was not needed that saved my children’s hearing.
Our eldest grandson has a similar life story to the one Marcia shares. Once he had tubes put in his ears he “took off” verbally and is now a successful teenage student. However I still remember the first conservation I had with him on the phone with tears streaming down my cheeks because we could converse with each other. This is a marvelous work and one that deserves recognition. Katelyn and Solenne are beautiful representatives. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. May it go far and wide to help and inspire many.
Wonderful story. Lucky that technology was advanced enough to enrich these kids and their parents were smart enough to make it work for their lovely children.
Dan, keep the good news stories coming. We need them.
Katelyn and Solenne are not the first Westport children to get cochlear implants, but they may have been the youngest. Eight years ago, Dan wrote this article in the Westport News about Caitlin Parton:
At lot good has happened to Caitlin since Dan’s column and you’ll find it here:
I, too, may some day be a candidate for a cochlear implant and hopefully I’ll set a record as being the oldest recipient! 🙂