Ryan Duchoeny sits on the floor between Yousaf and Sana, two third-graders who,
like him, have had cochlear implants that allow them to hear.
Teacher Penny Packard puts one hand in front of her mouth to prevent Ryan
from reading her lips and points to a square on an old calendar. "What
is the day?"
Ryan, 10, answers quickly and the teacher can tell that his answer was
"That is the date," Packard corrects, enunciating the sound of the
"t" in the word "date." Then she repeats her question.
"What is the day?"
"Sunday," Ryan says quite clearly.
A year ago, a surgeon at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington
implanted an electronic hearing device deep in the curled cochlea of Ryan's
right ear. A month later an audiologist turned on a tiny computer processor,
and sound entered Ryan's previously silent world. Now the deaf boy is
determined to speak and to decode what he hears.
His parents, his teacher and the director of the Montreal
for the Deaf all say his progress is remarkable.
"It is beyond all our expectations," said his father, Frank
Duchoeny. "It has improved his quality of life. He is not dependent on
having someone interpret for him."
The miracle of Ryan's hearing isn't just that his cochlear implant works. It
is also that his parents, Frank and Noreen Duchoeny, refused to accept a
ruling from the government of the province
of Quebec that Ryan's surgery
could not be underwritten by the government. Ryan was ruled ineligible for
the implant because he was fluent in American Sign Language. A government
doctor said Ryan would gain little from an implant because he was too old to
make significant progress differentiating sounds into words and learning to
the government pays for health care and decides who is eligible for
specialized and expensive medical procedures such as this ear implant.
Unable to have the surgery done anywhere in Canada,
the couple brought Ryan to Burlington.
Friends have helped them raise most of the $40,000 cost of the operation and
follow-up visits. They continue to challenge the government's ruling in
"It is a good thing that we had done the surgery and then went to
court," Frank Duchoeny said. "We can prove a benefit."
The proud father's favorite example of his son's progress is his ability to
order his own breakfast at a restaurant near their apartment in Chomedey.
His mother offers her own example. "When he comes home and wants
something and I say no, he'll call Frank."
Lots of spunk
Six months after his surgery,
Ryan transferred from a school where children are taught in sign language to
the Montreal Oral
School for the Deaf. Each weekday
he makes the half-hour ride in a van from home to the downtown school where
his classes are held.
Martha Perusse, director of the Montreal
said she worried initially that Ryan would feel isolated and insecure because
no one uses sign language at the oral school. "We went very slowly. We
all said if this doesn't work out, we will back out."
"His signing really helped him to have an understanding of what language
was all about," Perusse said. American Sign
Language is not English in gesture, but another language with its own rules.
"He just fit in beautifully," she said. "He is a spunky
The privately funded school serves 220 children from infancy through high
school. The goal, Perusse said, is to give the
children the skills they need to return to their neighborhood schools. The
program offers support until they graduate.
Packard, Ryan's teacher since September, has taught deaf children for 30
years. Her cozy classroom in the cavernous, old elementary school is
plastered with written words. No matter what subject she is teaching, she
said, vocabulary is the heart of the lesson. Hearing youngsters build their
vocabularies from infancy, but not deaf children, she said. "They are
years and years behind in vocabulary."
Packard wears a microphone that amplifies her voice for the children wearing
hearing aids as well as those with cochlear implants. She covers her mouth or
stands behind the students to force them to listen to her voice.
On a recent afternoon, she moved behind Ryan and questioned him on a story
she'd written about another student's upcoming cochlear implant surgery. He
wiggled like any 10-year-old full of pent-up energy at the end of the school
Packard was testing Ryan's ability to hear and understand her question and
his skill to respond with a grammatically correct sentence spoken in a clear
voice. He finally focused and answered her question.
Later, the teacher commented, "He has always had such a strong attitude
toward wanting to listen and try. He might never have clear, clear
speech," she added, "but he is not discouraged."
Learning English would seem challenge enough for these deaf children, but
this is Quebec where French is
the dominant language. So, three times a week, Ryan's class receives
instruction in French. Packard said, "They are putting on a play this
spring in French."
She notes that Ryan also takes Hebrew at his local synagogue.
Packard predicts a bright future for Ryan. "He is so keen and
enthusiastic," she said. "Ryan is going to be OK, absolutely."
Contact Nancy Remsen at (802) 229-9141 or firstname.lastname@example.org