Fourteen years ago, when he was five, Jowanne Suddarth lost his hearing. A deep sense of disconnect from the world began. Since then, it has been a struggle to gain acceptance and understanding, from others and with himself.
It is a struggle he is now winning handily, with the assistance of new technology and compassionate therapy.
“I was bullied when I was younger and it caused me so much pain and sadness,” Jowanne said. “I would think to myself: Why me? Why did I have to be made this way? But I’ve learned to be accepting of myself and confident. I want to be an example and advocate about overcoming a disability.”
Jowanne has been receiving counseling at Southwest Solutions. He also participates in our Cornerstone program, which helps prepare young people for the transition and challenges of adulthood. Melodi Litkouhi is Jowanne’s counselor and is also member of the Cornerstone team.
“Melodi has helped me to be better, to not be ashamed, and to be who I am – and not hide my cochlear implants,” Jowanne said. “She has helped change my experiences with people and with my family. She also helped me get a job and has encouraged me to be more independent. Cornerstone, too, has been a blessing. We are like a family.”
A few weeks ago, Jowanne had a state-of-the-art cochlear implant put into his right ear. He had surgery on his left ear in 2014 to insert an implant. Before the implants, Jowanne relied on hearing aids, which were helpful but also produced a disturbing buzzing sound and amplified background noise, making it hard for Jowanne to focus his thoughts and attention. To communicate with others, he developed the ability to read lips, in both English and Spanish. With the new implants, Jowanne’s hearing is much closer to normal and his ability to concentrate has also improved.
“I know a lot about cochlear implants and I have ideas to improve them,” Jowanne said. “I want to create a special type of battery for the implants that can use a portable charger, and I have been working with a doctor at Children’s Hospital to design it. We hope it can become a business.”
Jowanne will be starting at Henry Ford College this fall. He is planning a degree in education and hopes to become an elementary school teacher.
Jowanne also hopes to play a role in the media and entertainment arena. He has been concerned about the lack of deaf characters and personalities on TV.
“One day, I want to have my own show that shows people what life is like as a deaf person,” Jowanne says. “I want to show people all the things that deaf people can do once they’re given the support they need.”