Better Speech & Hearing Month

Trio of Ballerinas Dancing Through Hearing Loss

Full of grace and giggles, the Thursday afternoon class at Greenbrier Dance Academy seems like any other.

Six little girls, clad in black leotards and tights, all plies and pirouettes at the barre.

But three of the ballerinas in this class have extra accessories — hearing aids.

Paige Dewey, Ava Kelley and Zoey Harrington are all three patients of the Audiology Department at Arkansas Children's Hospital, and by happenstance enrolled in the same dance classes.

"When we showed up to that first class and saw that there were other children with hearing aids, I thought, 'Oh, this is just perfect,'" Jacqueline Dewey said. "It shows all three of them that they aren't alone, and can do anything despite their hearing loss."

[Zoey,Paige & Ava]

Paige's high frequency hearing was impacted when she was 3 after undergoing powerful chemotherapy to treat a germ cell tumor. During her treatment, she was lined up with Audiologist Rachel Sievers at ACH, who continues to work closely with the family now that Paige is cancer-free.

"The only people Paige had ever seen out in public with hearing aids before were older, like grandparents," Jacqueline said. "She had never really seen other kids, so this has been great!"

Jennifer Kelley says the experience has been every bit as helpful for 8-year-old Ava. She wears a Baha hearing aid because of a connective tissue disorder associated with collagen deficiency.

"It's been really good for her, and seeing these girls with another type of hearing aid has inspired her to want to try new models," Jennifer said.

Ava enjoys staging the full dance routines, like the program the girls are practicing for a patriotic-themed recital in June.

Her mom says that the camaraderie has been beneficial for the parents, too.

"It's nice to be able to network with each other and say, 'Oh, have you thought of this?'" said Jennifer Kelley, who is also a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse at ACH. "It's been great to know we have someone to talk to when we have questions."

Zoey, 6, loves dancing with Ava and Paige, as well. Her mom Shari says the three girls bonded easily.

"Zoey simply seems to enjoy the opportunity to play with all her friends at the class," Shari said. "It is just so cool that it worked out this way for them to be together.

Seeing their daughter gleefully twirling and having a ball has been the Harringtons' dream since finding out Zoey had moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss when she was 4 months old.

"In many ways, we were blessed to receive hearing aids so early," Shari said. "She knows nothing different, and when she's wearing her aids has normal hearing."

Meanwhile, the Audiology team at Arkansas Children's Hospital looks forward to updates from the girls when they come to clinic, chattering away about their friends at dance.

"We couldn't believe it when the moms told us that these girls were all in a class together," said Jennifer Rigsby, Zoey's audiologist at ACH. "We wish every child who experiences hearing loss had this kind of resource and support. There's no question that seeing other children overcoming the same obstacles makes the process easier for these families."

Learn more about Audiology at ACH.