Near deaf reporter tells her tale

 Messenger photo by Sandi Latimer
 Liz Thompson of Grove City makes over her hearing dog Snert. In the fourth grade Thompson learned she had a hearing problem. She learned how to work through her disability and six years ago received a cochlear implant. She writes about her experiences in a book due out in July.

Liz Thompson learned in the fourth grade that her hearing was deteriorating. She feels that if things had been done differently back then, things would be different today.

"The teachers put me up front," said the Grove City resident. "Had it been acknowledged earlier through school and home, things might have been easier for me."

Elementary and middle school in her native Westerville were fine, "but when I got to high school, I struggled. I was lost," she said.

She got through with the help of drama and music courses and a love of English. She pursued a music degree at Bowling Green State University.

After working in secretarial positions for 20 years, and writing music and poetry, she found herself in a position to be pressed into duty as a reporter for a weekly newspaper, where she was working on the copy desk in the late 1990s.

She hadn’t any more than asked fellow employees what a stringer was until she was assigned to do a story. (A stringer is a person not on the staff of a newspaper but who writes a story for the publication or provides information to the paper for a fee).

Thompson’s first assignment was to do a story on the Ohio DEAF expo, an event "I was planning to attend anyway."

Although the clipping of that story in the newspaper is yellowed, it is now framed and part of her memorabilia of her accomplishments.

As a reporter, she realized she wasn’t hearing everything, especially when covering meetings and some of the speakers had their backs to her. That’s when she learned to pose special questions to the people involved.

"I would often to go to them afterwards and ask ‘What did you mean when you said thus-and-such?’ and they’d say ‘Did I say that?’" she said.

Six years ago, at the age of 50, her hearing was gone in the right ear and only at 8 percent in the left. She had been pronounced as a candidate for a cochlear implant and underwent the procedure.

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.

An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech, according to information from the Web site maintained by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

In recent years, Thompson started compiling her columns "so the kids and grandkids wouldn’t have to leaf through scrapbooks," she said. That project turned into a book, "Day by Day: The Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter," published by Gallaudet University Press and due out in July.

Included in this book are some of her columns, how she came to write them and what kind of response she got from them. She also wrote about her hearing problem, how she worked through it, before eventually receiving a cochlear implant.

"It’s not an A to Z of my life," she said, "although it does start in the fourth grade when I had a strong memory of smell and sight."

Although she has managed to go through life with the hearing impairment, she also struggles daily with multiple sclerosis.

That diagnosis came in 1987, "although I’d had the symptoms since 1970.

"I do all right in the house, I have several canes and two power chairs," she said.

Thompson no longer drives and relies on specialized transportation and friends.

Today, her hearing is 95 percent in a quiet setting and she has a hearing dog to help her hear special sounds. Snert, a long-haired dachshund, has been with her since he was 6 weeks old. He is now 13 and has been trained to alert her to the door, fire alarm and smoke alarm.

Twice he’s alerted her to a dangerous situation, she said. Once when a light fell over and started burning the carpet and once when water was boiling over.

Thompson isn’t complaining about life handing her lemons. She appears to have made plenty of lemonade, leading a full life and ready to share what she has learned.

First through her book and also with her diagnosis of MS that finds her as a webmaster on a site for people with MS where they chat about issues they are facing.

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