Mother and son overcome deafness and he's singing his way to success!
Haidee Olivier lived most of her adult life unaware she couldn't hear properly. When, her son Tiaan was born with only one ear both he and (finally) Haidee got the right care. Now, as his competition videos show ,there's no telling where Tiaan's sweet singing voice may take him.
Haidee and Tiaan first shared their touching story with the Discovery Health Medical Scheme in 2017.
Haidee slipped through the diagnostic gaps as a child. She suffered interminable teasing and bullying at school for not listening or hearing well - as she simply couldn't hear properly.
An audiologist - brought in by Haidee's gynaecologist when Tiaan was born with only one ear - was horrified to accidentally discover that Haidee had lived her entire adult life without proper hearing.
Haidee was only diagnosed with Microtia and Atresia just after her son Tiaan was born (he was also diagnosed with these conditions). Tiaan, now eight years old, was born entirely without one ear leaving him totally deaf on the left side.
- Microtia refers to an external deformity where the ear is underdeveloped or missing (microtia-anotia).
- Atresia refers to the narrowing of a passage or opening in the body (in this case, the ear canal).
"In my case, my left ear was only one centimetre smaller than the right one," she says.
"You wouldn't see it unless I pointed it out. However, at school I was told I was naughty because I never seemed to listen. Children were horrible to me. Eventually I hated school so much that I bunked an average of two days a week for my entire matric year. They said I was stupid, and eventually I started believing them. I had no idea I was partially deaf. What I could hear was normal for me. I gave my netball teacher heart palpitations when I regularly turned up for practice, having missed her morning maths classes," she jokes.
Hearing devices change Haidee and Tiaan's lives
Haidee now sports a Med-El Bonebridge device (anchored in her skull) and Tiaan a Med-El Vibrant Soundbridge hearing aid, (anchored via a hole in the skull to the hearing bones in the middle ear).
Getting to this point hasn't been easy - especially for Haidee. She describes three extremely painful and unsuccessful procedures in her early twenties. Surgeons removed and replaced the hearing bones in her middle ear with a prosthesis.
Previous, unsuccessful procedures left her floundering in corporate IT meetings where sounds merged and she was unable to follow a speaker unless she could see their lips moving. Her husband would call out something to her from another room and she had no idea where he was, her directional hearing completely dysfunctional. She describes her experience of the previous BAHA device as like hearing someone in a large hall with far away echoes.
She had the subsequent operation to fit her Med-El Bonebridge device in March 2017 and found it absolutely amazing to be able to hear properly for the first time.
Due to developmental considerations Tiaan started out with a BAHA hearing aid at just under a year old, having surgery to install his the Vibrant Soundbridge device in September 2016.
Watching Tiaan's face when the audiologist first switched on the BAHA hearing aid is something Haidee will never forget. He was just stunned. "He immediately ripped his head to the left (the deaf side)," she recalls. They were told that Tiaan was actually hearing better than they were because the sound-booth test involved Tiaan throwing a block into a bucket every time he heard a sound. Several times he threw a block when they couldn't hear a thing. They thought Tiaan was mistaken, but the audiologist refuted this saying his sound range was now better than theirs
Discovery Health Medical Scheme funds Haidee and Tiaan's hearing recovery
"Were it not for Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) funding multiple operations and progressive devices - totalling nearly R700 000 - and resulting in full hearing for me and Tiaan, our lives could have taken tragically different trajectories," says Haidee. "The interventions have had a profound impact on our lives. I'm really grateful. I'd like to thank the DHMS from the bottom of my heart. There is no way my son and I would have been able to have received the gift of hearing, were it not for the scheme. Words are really not enough to share our gratitude. I'd like the scheme to understand that we have received more than just the ability to hear. You've given my son and me whole new lease on life! For that, I will always be thankful."
"I'd have died of heartache if Tiaan wasn't able to hear properly. It kills me to think about Tiaan going through anything remotely like what I've had to go through. I know how it would have eroded his soul, little by little as he grew up - and he's such a larger-than-life personality."
"DHMS is one of the few medical schemes that funds the state-of-the-art hearing implants and procedures. This means there are uncounted numbers of people in similar situations as me and Tiaan, but with insufficient knowledge or help and who face an unnecessarily muted future," she adds.
Haidee believes that all the heartache she went through has given her compassion and understanding. She recently told her story to a kindred mother waiting with her hearing-impaired son in a specialists' surgical rooms. "She broke into tears and wanted me to tell her absolutely everything about hearing impairment. It was the first proper insight she'd had into her son's experience."
Helping those whose medical aids don't cover hearing-impairments
Haidee gave Tiaan's BAHA device to a woman in Port Elizabeth whose eight-month-old baby girl suffers from an almost identical condition. "I don't know which medical scheme they are on but she said their scheme wouldn't even allow them to pay for the tests required from their medical savings. They had to pay for everything. She could not afford a BAHA device - the first and easiest option when it comes to getting a little one to start hearing," she adds.
Together with the founder of the Microtia/Atresia Support Group South Africa, Haidee tries to assist people whose children have hearing impairments. Seeing another young boy with the condition walk past her after one of her son's cricket games recently helped her realise the dire societal need for information and support. "I want everybody that's affected by these two conditions to be part of a group and not feel alone. I don't want parents to cry non-stop for the first year of their child's life like I did," she adds passionately.
Haidee has taught Tiaan to manage his disability. At first, he was shy about his little bean-like malformed ear on the left side of his skull, but she's now helped destigmatise it to the point where he allows people to touch his implant and tells them all about it. "I told him God made him the way he is for a reason and that he's special enough to be chosen and strong enough to carry this. I always joke, telling him we're the transformers."
Tiaan's singing career has taken off!
"Tiaan attended the preschool that Haidee owns in Pretoria until 2019. "At first, it was very difficult for Tiaan to adjust to the new school he went to thereafter, as he experienced teasing and bullying as a result of his malformed ear. His teacher thankfully dealt with it very well. She really took the trouble to explain his condition to the other children and that understanding made all the difference to Tiaan's experience and the bullying and teasing ended," says Haidee. "Those incidents showed me the absolute need that exists to teach our children about people who are different, and reinforce that being different is not a negative thing. Our differences should be explained, explored and embraced."
Much to his credit, Tiaan started music lessons in 2019. "He loves to share what he's learnt with us and even loves the theory of music. Tiaan also began primary school in 2020 with piano lessons which he absolutely loves," says Haidee.
"In 2020, Tiaan entered the Performing Arts Community in South Africa (PACISA) competition, made it through to Nationals, performed on stage alone at the end of September and did so well, he received two platinum and two gold certificates for the four songs he sang. And he won his age group," says Haidee.
Haidee continues, "Then he entered the 'Just Keep Singing' online competition through Facebook and his video got the third most views of all the contestants' videos. People have seen it across the world. I've had a father of a little girl with Microtia from New Zealand contact me, asking for advice. And a local mom also got in touch - she needed some information and assurance around the same hearing implant that Tiaan has, for her daughter. I love sharing Tiaan's accomplishments, as doing so allows other parents who feel just as stressed and insecure about what to do next as I once did, to see that their children can also achieve whatever it is that they set their minds to." Watch Tiaan perform a song here.
In 2021 Tiaan started Grade 2. "He is part of the school's junior choir and passed his first junior dance group audition too and we hope he will have many opportunities to perform," says Haidee.
Tiaan was also accepted into the Magaliesberg Children's Choir at the end of 2020. "It is such a huge accomplishment, because they don't normally take kids younger than those in Grade 4, due to the effort and hours they require of the choir. However, we explained all of this to Tiaan and he said he was keen to work hard. After rehearsals he bubbles over with excitement at what he has learnt," adds his mom.
The next big medical step in Tiaan's life is reconstruction of his missing ear. "Tiaan had always said that he didn't want reconstruction and that he likes his ear just the way it is," says Haidee. "However, over the past year he has started asking about it and showing a willingness for it. We will be setting up an appointment with his specialist to get the ball rolling."
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