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Hatfield woman awarded for triumph over deafness

HATFIELD — When Emily Hewlings, 19, of Hatfield goes to bed at night, she takes out a cochlear implant and enters a world of silence. In the morning, she puts the device back in and returns to the world filled with sounds.

Hewlings was born profoundly deaf in both ears, but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 3 months. At age 2, she received her cochlear implant, which allows her to hear out of her right ear.

Growing up, she underwent extensive speech therapy. At night, her parents would sit with her going over vocabulary cards and pronunciation.

And now, so many years later, Hewlings is being recognized for her triumph and academic successes as a recipient of the Graeme Clark Scholarship from Cochlear Americas. As one of five students in North America selected for the honor, Hewlings stands to receive $2,000 per year for up to four years. The scholarship is named for Professor Graeme Clark of the University of Melbourne. Clark’s work helped lead to the first Nucleas Implant in 1982. Scholarship applicants must have this implant.

Hewlings graduated last June from Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield. Today, Hewlings, who spoke to the Gazette in a telephone interview from Goucher College in Baltimore, Md., where she studies, said she believes that her cochlear implant has had an impact on her goals for the future.

She’s not yet sure what she’ll major in, or what her career will be, beyond one thing: “I want to inspire people,” she said.

Hewlings said there are different ways to reach this goal. She may counsel people, she would like to work with adolescents. She may write stories.

“Growing up, I wasn’t able to hear a lot so I always relied on the written word to make sense of the world around me,” she said.

She says she has been enjoying her first year of college. She looks forward to learning about other cultures and is excited to study abroad, possibly in England. One of the reasons she chose Goucher was because it requires studying abroad, she says.

David Hewlings does not hesitate when asked to describe his daughter.

“Fiercely independent, and she’s always been that way,” he said in a telephone interview. He also attributes her success to the help she had gotten from a host of educational and medical professionals over the years.

Emily Hewlings started elementary school in suburban Philadelphia, but by third grade, her performance started to slip. Eventually, after doing some research, the family decided to move to Hatfield in 2003 so she could attend Clarke School for Hearing and Speech in Northampton.

“Clarke had a residential program at the time, but we all wanted to be together,” said Emily Hewlings.

David Hewlings said that he and his wife, Linda Thiel Hewlings, were initially hesitant about cochlear implants because of the surgery involved, but changed their minds after they visited the New York League for the Hard of Hearing and saw how well children with the implant could hear and speak.

He said he believes the tensions within the deaf community around sign language versus oral communication is unfortunate. “It is all about what is right for the child in question,” he said. “Know your child, know what is right, and go after it.”

Jeanne Coburn, Hewling’s audiologist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield agrees. She says that her work with children and cochlear implants is the most rewarding part of her job. She has seen children who cannot say any words at age 1, progress to speaking above their age level within two years.

She said cochlear implants are easier to adjust to when the recipients are very young.

“Kids who grow up with the implant typically don’t know anything different, but teenagers go through self-identity issues and will wonder what it would be like if they didn’t have it,” she said.

Emily Hewlings says the cochlear implant has become an integral part of her and she no longer thinks about it on a daily basis. She said there have been challenges, however. She has difficulty hearing people when they mumble, and in high school, she had to develop the confidence to accept what makes her unique.

“Starting high school, I was really quiet, I didn’t want to look stupid because I was already a little different,” she said. To overcome that, she became involved in a variety of activities from Student Council to basketball and soccer to literary society. That helped her to excel in school.

Hewlings admits that she surprised herself by doing so many things she had never attempted before. Her advice to others experiencing adversity is simple.

“Throw yourself out there, it will make you more confident and you wont be afraid to try new things,” she said.

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