Jill Gill’s birth plan didn’t include weeks of bed rest or an induction at 37 weeks due to pre-eclampsia, but when her son Tucker was born last February, she was glad he came early. Her eight-pound, healthy baby boy, however, failed his newborn hearing screenings, and an even more unexpected journey began for the Gill family.
Before more detailed testing, Jill took newborn Tucker to meet a friend at the Whistlestop Café in Denham Springs. “We were outside on the patio, and a train came by and laid on the horn full blast,” Jill remembers. “Tucker didn’t flinch.”
She says she knew then that Tucker could not hear. She and her husband, Jacob Gill, went into the auditory brain response test with that expectation. When Tucker was four weeks old, the family found out that he had bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss.
“The ride home was super quiet. We didn’t really know what to say,” Jill says. After the complications of her pregnancy, however, she and Jacob were able to focus on Tucker’s good health more than his hearing loss. “If this is all we have to deal with, we can handle this,” Jill says.
Tucker’s audiologist reached out to the Louisiana School for the Deaf, and the family immediately received support through the school’s Parent Pupil Education Program. Susannah Boudreaux, then an outreach coordinator, helped the Gills through the process of finding doctors and scheduling, and even attending some appointments.
“The parent education program pointed us in the right direction and gave us a community that we didn’t know existed,” Jill says. She met families through the Facebook group and even found out some of her friends had children with hearing loss.
Tucker’s 13-year-old sister, Kalyn, had begged for a little brother for years. “She is his biggest defender and champion,” Jill says. Kalyn, her mom, grandma, and aunt have been able to take sign language classes at the school. The classes are free for families with a child with hearing loss.
Now nearing one years old, Tucker has already learned some baby sign language, including the words for “mama,” “more,” and “food.” He is a happy, healthy boy who loves his big sister, peek-a-boo, and bath time.
Tucker uses hearing aids that allow him to hear some low, muffled sounds, but not enough to differentiate speech. The family is preparing for a surgery that will allow him to hear even more via cochlear implants, which will be done through Our Lady of the Lake Hearing and Balance.
“I want him to feel a part of the deaf community and the hearing community,” Jill says. It’s important to the Gills that Tucker incorporates hearing with sign language. “There’s a divide in either you’re a hearing person or a deaf person, and I think it’s really important that he’s able to identify as both,” Jill says.
After Tucker’s cochlear implants are working, the Gills will donate his hearing aids. “If anyone knows a family with a child diagnosed with hearing loss, we’d love for them to get in touch with Woman’s Audiology and see if they could be a match,” Jill says.
Although it was unexpected, Jill says, “Awesomeness can come along with a hearing loss diagnosis.” ■