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By Chad Frey
Newton Kansan
June 2, 2015

Graduation Party
After more than 10 years, therapy for deaf teen comes to end

Ethan Cole was cutting the cake Monday, a cake celebrating his graduation from high school. The cafeteria at a hospital doesn’t seem like a place many would pick for a celebration, but this party also marked the last time he would go to Newton Medical Center for speech therapy.

He has done that for 10 and a half years.

Cole became deaf at the age of 8 months due to a  form on meningitis. He was the first FDA approved recipient in the state of Kansas to receive a cochlear implant at the age of 12 months. Before a surgery at 16 months, complications arose and the surgeon was only able to do a partial insertion, nine electrodes instead of the full 21 for his implant.

Cole began therapy in the second grade — up to that point he was supported in the school system with a deaf educator and sign language interpreters. But therapy promised more. It promised the opportunity to better understand people around him.

“This helps me to hear,” Cole said. “I am happy that I got to hear and am able to communicate with hearing people as well.”

He is not without challenges. With less than half of the normal number of electrodes there are sounds that simply escape him. For example, he can not hear “S” or “SH” sounds in speech.

And life has not been a bed of roses. There is a reason his favorite T-shirt bears a simple, yet blunt message: “I am deaf, not stupid.”

“People have not treated me well,” Cole said. “They do not understand. I can do anything. I can talk.”

He has not allowed any challenge to keep him from success. This spring Cole graduated from Newton High School with the 2015 Superintendent Award, membership in the First Hour Honor Team and an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate. He also competed on the school bowling and track teams and was a member of the Rotary Club and Railer Ambassadors.

“It has been an honor and a lot of fun watching Ethan grow up, gain confidence and become the successful young man he is today,” said Brenda Ulbrich, who has worked with Cole for the entire 10 years of therapy. “I have gained much from our 10 years together. He will be a strong reminder of why I became a speech therapist and how rewarding this job is. “

His therapy, from day one, was focused on hearing comprehension. That has included doing interviews of hospital staff. Cole was required to ask at least 10 questions of a person, and then report on both his questions and the answers.

Therapy has included group sessions, mentoring younger patients during speech camps and making a presentation to the hospital board about the program that has helped him nearly his entire life.

“It makes him listen, rather than rely on reading lips,” said Corinna Cole, Ethan’s mother.

“It has helped me to speak clearly and to understand what people are hearing,” Ethan Cole added.

This fall he will attend college at Black Hills State College in South Dakota. He will leave for Spearfish, South Dakota, in July. With a new set of challenges awaiting, Ethan Cole can hardly wait.

“It is a very beautiful campus, a small college and a good fi t for me,” Ethan Cole said.

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