Inspired by the upcoming film “Rally Caps,” which features a young, baseball-playing character with cochlear implants, The Children’s Hearing Program (CHP) at the UHealth Ear Institute recently hosted an event at a Miami Marlins game to bring awareness to children’s hearing loss.
Held on Saturday, April 21, at Loan Depot Park in Miami, the pre-game event included several hearing awareness activities where guests could meet with CHP staff members and learn about hearing loss and hearing health through interactive games. Children from the CHP also got the opportunity to meet the Marlins players before the game.
The young patients were front and center during all the festivities, and the first pitch was thrown out by Kylie Guthrie, a 15-year-old softball player who received bilateral cochlear implants in 2017 after suddenly losing her hearing.
The Power of Peer Support
“One of the most powerful things for a child is having peer support,” said Ivette Cejas, Ph.D., director of family support services at the Children’s Hearing Program and associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Because of early identification and advanced hearing technology, many of our children and families end up doing so well that they attend mainstream school, and rarely get the opportunity to be around other children with hearing loss. An event like this gives them natural interaction.”
Michelle and Matan Ben-Aviv’s son, Sam, is a perfect example: He progressed quickly with therapy from the CHP and now attends mainstream school. In appreciation of the care Sam received, the Ben-Avivs have made a philanthropic gift to ensure that the CHP remains accessible to other families of children with hearing loss. The Ben-Avivs also donated tickets so that those other families could attend the game.
“This is such a great opportunity for kids to come together and see others with cochlear implants be highlighted in a major movie,” said Michelle Ben-Aviv. “It can get really expensive to come to a game, so we wanted to help give kids that experience without families having to worry about the cost.”
The CHP is one of the few comprehensive programs in the United States for children with hearing loss. Organizers plan events throughout the year to provide children and parents with regular opportunities for vital peer support.
Tears of Joy
“It’s not just for the children, but for the parents as well,” said Dr. Cejas. “During the Rally Caps event, the mother of one of our new infant patients actually cried tears of joy when she saw a teenager who now has beautiful speech throw out the first pitch.”
Hillary Snapp, Au.D., Ph.D., chief of audiology and associate professor of otolaryngology at the Miller School, said, “Our hope is to give families who are dealing with challenging circumstances the opportunity to take their kids out and see other children who live like them, look like them, and have similar experiences as them.”
In addition to celebrating the nearly 250 CHP patients and families who attended the game, the CHP team at the Marlins game also had the opportunity to interact with the community to provide free hearing screenings and raise awareness about hearing loss.
“We appreciated the help of our donors, in particular the Ben-Aviv family, who don’t just want their child to have these experiences, but they really want to offer that to every family of a child with hearing loss,” said Dr. Cejas.
After a child receives a hearing aid or implant, there are many clinical services needed to develop hearing and language skills, most of which are not covered by health insurance and can place a large burden on many families. This makes donor support critical for the ongoing success of the CHP.
“We want to do everything in our power to make sure other families are able to have this same wonderful experience that we’ve had,” said Michelle Ben-Aviv, who brought her son to the CHP when he was only a few days old. “It’s very clear to us that this is a special place.”
If you would like to join the Ben-Avivs in contributing to the CHP, please contact Madeleine Lesser Novack at email@example.com or 201-572-8395.