March 2019 Gazette Series

A mother has thanked the Thornbury community for contributing to the success of her deaf son.

Sue Pietersen’s son Hughan was nine months old when it became apparent he could not hear her. He was fitted with powerful hearing aids, but didn’t respond to sounds. "It took five agonising months for him to be diagnosed profoundly deaf," recalled Sue. Living in Botswana in 1989 Sue had no home computer, no mobile phone, or any form of easy access to information about deafness. There were also no Paediatrician’s, no Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists, no Audiologists and no deaf community.They had to travel five hours to Johannesburg for this support.

"We were faced with many decisions, choices and challenges," said Sue. "One of which was finding out that signing was not a universal language, but varied from place to place."

Thinking South Africa might be behind in its approach to deafness, the family came to England that December and a chance encounter on a train led to them learning about the pioneering cochlear implant. Returning home, they found out about the Carel du Toit Centre in Cape Town and chose to follow the program. They had just implanted their first child with the Australian cochlear implant device and Hughan was just the 34th person to receive it.

Hughan came to Thornbury in 1998. He attended Crossways Junior School, Kumon classes, Filton High, Filton College and City of Bristol College before becoming a Mobile Caravan Engineer. He also worked at The Anchor, Wyevale Garden Centre and did work experience at the Ford Garage.

Years later Sue made an incredible discovery. "I came across our train tickets from 1989 and a little pink piece of paper with an Australian address and a ladies name ‘Dr Elaine Saunders'" she said.This was the person who had told them about the cochlear implant. "I Googled her name and couldn’t believe all her achievements and awards she had received for the work she had done with helping the deaf. "It was truly wonderful being able to say ‘thank you’ and how the implant had impacted Hughan’s life," said Sue.

Following Hughan's success Sue set up Speech for Deaf Children, a Facebook page now with 48,000 followers, to help other parents with deaf children. Emma, who lived in New Zealand, and is also profoundly deaf using cochlear implants, was one of the first people to write a comment on the page. She soon became friends with Hughan, regularly speaking despite the difference in time zone. Emma then flew over to meet him in 2015 before Hughan got a visitor’s visa, enabling him to work in New Zealand.

They got engaged in August 2017 and married in January. Dr Elaine Saunders was given an invitation. "It was a real honour and privilege that Elaine came from Melbourne to be with us at the wedding, meeting up again nearly 30 years later. How life would have been so different without the encounter of meeting Dr Elaine Saunders," said Sue. After their wedding in New Zealand, Hughan and Emma returned to England for their ‘Wedding Blessing’ at St Paul’s Church Thornbury and their honeymoon. "Huge thanks to so many people in Thornbury, it’s been life changing for him.

"We would like to say a huge thanks to all the teachers, friends and everyone who have contributed to Hughan’s success. He could never have achieved what he has without your support.

Hughan's story features in Dr. Saunder's autobiography, Sound of Silence. She wrote ‘you never know when your one brick in the wall is an important brick’.

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