“Being profoundly deaf has in no way stopped me from taking the countless opportunities I have been given, thanks to my Baha hearing solution!”
Lucy Ritchie 19, from Glasgow, Scotland, was born profoundly deaf with Treacher Collins syndrome. She has been a Baha user since the age of one and relies on her Baha sound processor every awake minute of her life. She is currently studying for a BA (Hons) Management with Marketing degree at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. And on July 2 she was awarded the very first Anders Tjellström Scholarship in the UK!
The oldest of three children, Lucy refused to be defined by her condition, despite it making her facial appearance different and giving her medical complications along the way. Unconnected with the condition, she also had the added challenge of dyslexia.
Treacher Collins syndrome affects the development of bones and other tissues of the face, which means that Lucy was born without external ears and with small cheek bones, jaw and chin. Over the years she has undergone 20 surgical procedures to make breathing, eating and hearing easier. Early on, her parents were told that Lucy would never be able to hear, have a normal childhood, attend a mainstream school, be able to talk well or live on her own as an adult. Lucy is delighted to have proven these theories wrong thanks to the support from her ENT and respiratory consultants, maxillofacial surgeon, audiologists and parents. Having the Baha System has enabled her to achieve all of her ambitions.
“I don’t look in the mirror all the time, and the Baha helps me to forget that I’m different to other people and can do pretty much everything that anyone else can do. I can’t swim or shower with it, but that’s about all,” she says.
This has given Lucy the confidence to ignore the daily stares she receives from strangers and get on and embrace her life. She enjoys travelling and recently flew to Spain to spend time with a friend who had moved there. Far from shying away from the limelight, Lucy has sung in a choir in front of thousands of people, took to the catwalk in a school fashion show, and she’s been a scout leader and represented her school in tennis and hockey.
Life would have been very much harder for Lucy if she had not had the Baha sound processor and needed to rely on lip reading, facial/hand gestures or sign language. For Lucy’s level of hearing would be equivalent to putting your fingers tightly into your ears and multiplying that difficulty in hearing by two, says Jim Harrigan, head of paediatric audiology at Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He says that Lucy had been a true inspiration during her 10 years as his patient. “She coped extremely well despite all her extra complications: her facial surgery and breathing problems. Nothing seems too much of a challenge for her.”
Lucy aims high and is diligent and committed in her studies. She attended mainstream school and achieved excellent qualifications. She has participated in a multitude of additional activities including singing in a choir, skiing, playing competitive hockey, assisting with the Scouting movement and was IT Director of her school’s Young Enterprise Company. All of these additional activities would have been highly likely not possible if Lucy did not receive the benefit she obtains from her Baha System.
“When I received the email to say I had been awarded the scholarship I was lost for words and overwhelmed with excitement. I have never remembered life without [my Baha implant]. Being awarded the scholarship feels like a reward for the tough aspects I’ve had to go through with my medical condition. Having my Baha has allowed me to have perfect speech and hearing just like anyone else.
I put myself forward for this scholarship as a way to show people that just because you have a hearing impairment it doesn’t stop you from achieving your aspirations or dreams. With the right attitude and a pot of determination you can succeed or be anything you want to be. I have lived my life beyond many people’s expectations and with the contribution from the Anders Tjellström Scholarship I can continue to do so and give those who are experiencing something similar hope for the future. Without Cochlear I wouldn’t be able to have the life I do, be able to do all the things I am doing and keep up with my peers and so for that I am so thankful to Cochlear for allowing and making this happen.”
Professor Anders Tjellström himself was present and personally handed Lucy her award in a ceremony at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow on July 2.
“Lucy’s story is really amazing,” says Professor Tjellström. “In spite of her many problems especially during early childhood, she has already achieved so much in her life. ‘Impossible’ is a word she does not understand.”
Lisa Aubert, Cochlear UK General Manager commented, “The UK Cochlear Anders Tjellström Scholarship was set up to help Baha recipients achieve more in further education and we are extremely proud to honour our first winner Lucy, who has shown perseverance and leadership, while benefiting from Cochlear’s state-of-the-art technologies. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for her.”
Lucy’s inspiring story made headlines in both the Evening Times and Scottish The Sun:
Applications are now open to take part in the next Cochlear UK Anders Tjellström Scholarship Award. The deadline to receive submissions is October 31 2015. Please contact Kate King firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Photography by: Gerri Campbell