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Cochlear implant offers many firsts for Northland seventh-grader

Gladstone Sun News, MO - Aug 19, 2004

Kellie Houx, Assistant Editor

Catherine Rechenberger's parents said each day is a learning experience for their daughter as her vocabulary grows.

Last summer, Catherine, 12, met Heather Whitestone McCallum, the first deaf woman to be crowned Miss America 1995.

Catherine learned that McCallum wanted an implant to hear her children which spurred Catherine to ask her parents, Sheila and Walter Rechenberger, Kansas City-North, about a cochlear implant.

A year later, Catherine has adapted to the implant.

"She gets angry if the batteries die and she does not have any replacements," Sheila said. "We keep batteries in all the cars now."

Catherine said the batteries last four to five days.

Walter said the implant and Catherine's subsequent training have gone "beyond expectations."

"We thought we would have a sound here and there," he said. "We were not counting on words. She has fooled everyone.

"I can stand at the steps and yell for her to come upstairs from the family room downstairs. She now yells, 'What?'"

Catherine's grandmother Terry Reilly said the implant allowed her granddaughter to improve her school work comprehension.

"She made the honor roll," Reilly said.

Catherine said some of her first sounds included birds singing and her dog barking.

"Then I could hear my name," she said.

Sheila said Catherine has heard children crying in the grocery store and her alarm clock.

"She tells us we are too loud," Reilly said.

Catherine said hearing is hard work. Sheila said her daughter is mastering beginning and ending sounds, but communicates mainly with sign language.

"Mom makes me study," Catherine said. "In school, it is a lot of time with teachers."

Catherine plays volleyball and said she hopes to hear the game whistle. She cannot wear the external processor or pack while swimming. A judge starts her with a hand signal.

"Her lip reading has improved," Sheila said. "That's helped with her sports."

Catherine will enter seventh grade at Maple Park Middle School. Sheila said Park Hill School District contracts out some services including those for hearing impaired and deaf children.

Walter said Catherine heard the tornado sirens earlier this summer.

"That was nice to know," he said. "I have teased her by turning up the car radio and then she tells me it is too loud. Family gatherings are often too loud. We are going to the movies and she does not ask for the headphones. We do still used closed captioning on the T.V."

Sheila said Catherine likes to cook and can now hear the oven timer.

"She cracked up laughing the first time she heard the sound of my voice," Walter said. "It's a little like starting over. We are going through many of those first steps."

Catherine has also gotten into music, including Britney Spears and Hillary Duff.

Sheila said there are no clues as to how far their daughter's hearing will progress. The family keeps a list on the refrigerator of all the sounds Catherine comments on.

"Catherine is an open book," Walter said. "We are taking things one step at a time."

© Sun-News of the Northland 2004



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