Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Do you remember when you first heard a sound or talked on the phone with a friend?
You probably don’t.
David Wolford does.
The South Rowan High School senior contracted meningitis when he was 6 months old. The large dose of penicillin doctors gave him to keep him alive left him deaf.
It was “the best of the worst,” according to David.
Other side effects could have included blindness, paralysis and mental retardation.
Doctors told David’s parents, Susan and Shane Wolford, that their son wouldn’t be able to function in the hearing world and would have to attend schools for deaf children.
Shane never accepted that prediction and told everyone, “My son David will survive the hearing world.”
Father really did know best.
David has always gone to public school, makes straight A’s, has been accepted to college and is one of South Rowan’s best varsity basketball players.
A cochlear implant when David was 5, a rarity at the time, helped make his success possible.
David remembers hearing for the first time when the cochlear implant was turned on.
“I started crying,” he said.
He was young and scared and “didn’t know what that noise was.”
David went to his mom and hugged her. Susan comforted him and explained the noise.
“It was the first time I ever heard sound. I still have the video of that at home,” he said.
Without the implant, David hears nothing.
“Even the loudest noise in the world, I can’t hear that,” he said.
But he uses sign language and reads lips.
Even with the implant, he has to rely on lip reading when the environment is very noisyó dances and the South Rowan cafeteria are prime examples.
For classes, David has an interpreter to make sure he can keep up with the teacher’s instructions.
Millen Mabe has been with David since ninth grade.
She sits on a stool at the front of the class beside the teacher and signs to David during the lesson.
They’ve got their system down now but at first, it was hard for David to write in his notebook and watch for the next part of the discussion.
He’s had an interpreter ever since he started school.
Kindergarten went fine, but when David went to first grade, he started having more difficulty.
“He was learning to hear plus learning information from the teacher,” Millen said.
David said his first word in first grade. He’s a little behind on his speech and vocabulary, but “every year I’m improving,” he said.
David wasn’t worried about being deaf in elementary school.”I focused on having fun and playing sports,” he said. “Middle school. That’s the point when I started getting frustrated.”
Background noises really bothered him, and he wanted to be able to talk with friends like everyone else.
But he kept playing sports.
Basketball. Soccer. Baseball.
“I’ve always loved sports,” he said.
David can’t wear the cochlear implant while playing because sweat will damage the device.
He takes it off and plays on in silence.
“Somebody may be running behind me, and I can’t hear them,” he said.
David uses the vibrations in the floor to track other players’ movements.
Even though he’s had to work harder than most students to takes notes in class, David has never considered going to a deaf school.
“I always said no way,” David said.
He credits his dad with keeping him motivated in academics.
“He would push me hard at school,” he said.
David said he does pretty much the same things as hearing kids to make the grade.
“I study hard, do my homework,” he said.
As for graduation, David said he’s “half excited, half sad.”
He’s sorry to see friends go but he’s excited to move on to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he’ll study mechanical engineering.
He and his best friend Chris Charles were accepted to the engineering program and the two plan to room together in the fall.
“We’ve got the same interests,” he said.
David won’t have an interpreter with him at UNCC, but he’s not worried.
Disability services has plenty to offer ó maybe even a computer that will display what the teacher is saying as the lesson is going on.
He’s got the same fears as most incoming college freshmen ó “nervous about doing good, keeping your grades up,” he said.
He’s heard horror stories about how hard the first year can be. “But I think I will make it. I know I will.”
Mechanical engineering will give him plenty of options, but right now he’s leaning towards motorsports.
“I like cars,” he said.
David’s best high school memory was during his junior year when he talked to his mom for the first time on the phone.His freshman and sophomore years, he couldn’t really understand well enough to use the phone, but now he’s dialing away like the rest of his classmates.”Right now I’m talking on the phone to my friends,” he said.
David said his friends have learned to talk slowly and speak up when they call him.
He’ll never forget the four years on varsity basketball or the junior year PE class with five of his teammates.
Last semester, a tumor in David’s ear threatened to ruin his high school plans, but his dad stepped in to help save his hearing again.
David was to go to Chapel Hill to have surgery where doctors thought they would have to take out the cochlear implant.
David’s dad consulted his own doctor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
The physician told David’s dad that he was confident he could do the surgery without taking out the implant.
“It kind of saved my hearing again,” he said.
After the surgery was over, his thoughts returned to college.
He said he was planning to focus on school work the first year but is thinking about trying out for the basketball team when he’s a sophomore.
“It’s all about basketball,” he said.
Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.

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