A FEW years ago doctors believed that Oliver Lanham, now five, would never walk independently after being diagnosed with profound unilateral deafness at six weeks of age and then cerebral palsy at two.
Determined, Ollie’s parents Angela Patch and Mark Lanham were in and out of specialist appointments and waiting rooms hoping that one day Ollie would be walking on his own, in a school uniform, with improved speech.
And he did.
Just weeks ago Ollie began his first day of kindergarten at Hughes Primary School joining his eight-year-old brother Elliott and six-year-old sister Millie.
“Seeing Ollie walking independently with improved speech on his first day of kindy was like a dream come true,” says Angela.
“Three years ago his neurologist thought he may have had a neurodegenerative disorder, so to go from believing we might lose him, to seeing him attend mainstream schooling was like winning Lotto.”
Ollie’s parents are especially thankful for The Shepherd Centre, which works with children who are deaf or who have hearing loss.
“They have helped Ollie’s teachers to understand the nature of his deafness and provided practical strategies to ensure he can hear the best he can in the classroom,” Angela says.
Since 18-months, Ollie has attended regular group programs and private sessions with a Shepherd Centre therapist in Rivett.
“The Shepherd Centre has supported our family through everything, the whole way,” Angela says.
Centre CEO Jim Hungerford says: “In Canberra we’ve been operating for 15 years now in Rivett and currently have over 40 kids.
“In years gone past it was difficult for [kids with hearing loss] to ever fit into mainstream society. People would use the terms ‘deaf’ and ‘dumb’, which are horrible terms.
“These days every child with hearing loss has a really good chance to fit in.”
Jim says that Ollie is a wonderful example of someone who has successfully been able to attend a mainstream school even though he has profound unilateral deafness.
“Raising a child with hearing loss can be a terrifying experience and about one third also have other disabilities like Ollie does,” Jim says.
At the age of two Ollie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and just after his third birthday, Ollie and his family travelled to the US for the surgical procedure selective dorsal rhizotomy that has since seen him walking without aid.
Angela says: “I found a specialist in St Louis, Missouri, Dr T.S. Park, and within a month Ollie was taking his first steps by himself.”
Angela and she and her husband Mark fundraised for the whole trip. They set up a GoFundMe page and Angela says they reached their target a few days before leaving, using the money for Ollie’s surgery as well as the family’s flights and accommodation.
“It was unbelievable, there were so many tears of joy,” Angela says.
“I did so much research and reading, found Dr Park and thought: ‘Is this too good to be true?'”
Angela says that immediately after the surgery Ollie’s speech improved and she would hate to think what it would be like without The Shepherd Centre’s involvement.
“The Shepherd Centre has certainly been a part of Ollie’s total journey,” she says.
“They’ve been there when we’ve had bad news and have been excited for us when we’ve had good news.
“I’ve been really impressed how they do go over and beyond and are happy to communicate with any stakeholders involved in Ollie’s care.”
Angela says that Ollie will struggle with school because of the extra effort he needs to put in, but he’s doing well.
She says Ollie’s grown into “a real character” who loves singing and dancing and can now pick up the words to any Katy Perry or Meghan Trainor song.
The Shepherd Centre, Canberra. At Nealie Place, Rivett. Call 9370 4402 or email firstname.lastname@example.org