Profoundly deaf senior ready for college

By Tammy Keith Originally Published May 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Caroline Stone, 18, who is profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant, holds a camera in IMC Studios in Russellville. Her dream is to work in the movie industry, possibly creating animation to go with film theme songs. She also enjoys dancing, singing and playing guitar and drums. She will graduate Friday from Russellville High School and will attend the University of Central Arkansas this fall.

Caroline Stone will walk across the stage at the Russellville High School graduation, and her triumph is both receiving a diploma and hearing the applause afterward.

Caroline, 18, and her twin brother, Carter, will graduate on Friday.

“Yes, I was born deaf, but I just feel like a normal person, like my brother,” she said.

“I’m surprised and happy when people ask me, ‘What’s that on your head?’ They didn’t realize till they saw, because I talk well.”

With her new short hairstyle, the cochlear implant is easy to see.

Jeannie Stone said she realized her daughter had some unusual behaviors as a toddler, like hiding behind drapes or tablecloths and rubbing them on her face, but an incident one night when Caroline was about 16 months old was an epiphany.

“She was playing at the bottom of the stairs, and I was calling her name as I was coming down the stairs,” Stone said. “She was positioned where she could see a window, and she turned, because she had seen the reflection of me coming down the stairs. That’s when I thought, ‘OK, I know what this is.’”

Cid Hill, a clinical audiologist in Little Rock, diagnosed Caroline at about 17 months old and has stayed in touch with the family.

At that time, Hill was infant hearing coordinator for the state of Arkansas.

“She had moderately severe to severe sensory neural hearing loss, which is a nerve-type hearing loss. There is no surgery to fix it,” Hill said.

Caroline’s hearing worsened.

Today, she has “profound” hearing loss, Stone said.

She said that some of her husband’s relatives, after Caroline’s diagnosis, shared that others in the family tree had hearing problems.

Hill said Stone “has been very proactive” in finding help for Caroline.

Caroline started with hearing aids, and Stone was determined to provide every opportunity for her daughter, despite resistance from some, even educators.

Stone said she can remember being told that she just refused to accept her daughter’s deafness.

For Stone, however, what she refused was to give up on her daughter.

Stone said she knew her daughter would fit into society better if she learned to talk.

So, in a gut-wrenching decision, she took Caroline to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis.

“A week before her 5th birthday, we left her. Let me tell you … it was the hardest thing,” Stone said.

However, Stone said she knew it was the best for Caroline.

“Leaving her in St. Louis in the school was the only way to save her and give her a voice,” Stone said.

For two years, Stone said, the family visited Caroline every two weeks.

“I was very lonely,” Caroline said.

The third year of the school, Stone said, she and two of Caroline’s brothers stayed in an apartment in St. Louis, and the boys attended school in the city.

Stone’s husband, Tim, is a physician and had to stay with his practice and their teenage son.

Caroline entered the Russellville School District in second grade.

“She was really the first in the school district who was profoundly deaf,” Stone said.

Not only did Caroline get specialized training in St. Louis; her mother made sure she got any help offered through the University of Central Arkansas (where Caroline will attend this fall) in the summers, Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative in Plumerville.

Stone found it frustrating at times because Arkansas was behind. When Bill Clinton was president, Stone’s mother worked for his administration.

Stone said her mother would call with great news about legislation that might help Caroline, and Stone would tell her it wasn’t happening yet in Arkansas.

When Caroline was 8 1/2, she underwent surgery at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for the cochlear implant.

“I was terrified. It was my first surgery,” she said.

It opened up a world of never-before-heard sounds.

“It was a big difference,” she said.

When her mother first put on the processor, which attaches to a magnet under the skin above her ear, “I pushed it away, because it’s like turning on a light in the morning in the darkness.”

Stone said it was a struggle in the beginning.

“I tackled her, like a football player, and I turned it on. Then I turned her off; then I turned her on. Here’s a little bit, here’s a little bit, here’s a little bit,” she said.

Caroline said that the next day, she put the processor on herself.

“I heard a lot of different noises I never heard of. I was surprised. [My mother] told me I was opening and closing doors, slapping my feet on the wood [floors], going outside and hearing the noises of the cars. I said, ‘Mom, what’s that?’ She said, ‘That’s a bird singing.’”

Stone didn’t know how much her daughter had been missing.

“I was so shocked that she hadn’t heard that before with the hearing aids. I felt guilty, almost,” Stone said.

Her guilt has been replaced with pride.

Caroline has at times struggled academically (mention math, and you’ll get an “ugh”), but this year she made all A’s and B’s.

“She has had to work so much harder than her twin,” Stone said.

Caroline has tried to get scholarships, but so far, nothing has come her way.

It’s not for lack of excellent recommendations.

Julie Foster, a speech-language pathologist who worked with Caroline, described her as a “well-rounded” student, “an effective communicator,” and someone with “integrity, responsibility and ambition.”

Caroline sang in the school choir for years, took private dance lessons, mostly ballet, plays guitar and just discovered a love for the drums.

Sara Daily had Caroline as a baby in a church day care class and later was her dance teacher for several years.

She said Caroline was her only hearing-impaired student.

“She was a great dancer. We put the speakers on the floor, and she kind of would feel the vibrations. That was part of her way of timing and rhythm, but she was remarkably able to dance in time to the music,” Daily said.

“I’ve been teaching her private sewing lessons now. She’s quite the little seamstress,” Daily said.

Caroline is interested in anime, Japanese animated productions, and she makes costumes to wear to anime conventions.

“She definitely is very creative in anything she does that she puts her mind to — she just really goes at it,” Daily said. “She’s very methodical about sewing, where she puts her time, and she does everything correctly. She wants to make it look really nice.”

It’s not just Caroline’s sewing skills that impress Daily.

“She’s empathetic to other students, loving, caring. She has a lot of friends. We’re all very excited about her going to UCA,” Daily said.

So is Caroline, albeit a bit apprehensive.

“I’m nervous of that — what’s it going to be like? It’s going to be way different than high school, and I am prepared to live in a dorm with a roommate,” she said.

Stone said UCA has more than a dozen hearing-impaired students, which will be a new experience for Caroline.

Caroline bounces up and down when she talks about wanting to work in movies.

This will be the fourth summer Caroline has been to the T-Tauri Movie

Camp in Batesville.

“It was a very good film camp because you learn each step,” she said.

Although she plans to get a film degree at UCA, what she wants to do is “music animation film,” she said, using her own terminology.

“For example, like a band’s song, I do animation in the background,” she said.

Caroline said one of her favorites is the animation accompanying Adele’s song in the beginning of the James Bond film Skyfall.

“I don’t know if I can have it all, but I want to do film, art, because I’m talented in art, and acoustic guitar,” she said. “And drums. I love drums.”

Caroline said she’s a “normal, proud person” with dreams.

“You know what? Never give up. Never give up on your dreams — follow them. Chase your dream to make it come true,” she said, offering a big smile.

“My dream is going to be the film career, 100 percent.”

No matter what she does, when the applause comes, Caroline will hear it.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.