Nov 2020 The Canberra Times
Harry Rupil, 5, was born with profound hearing loss. He's pictured with his mother Cailin, father Marc, sister Jenna, 6, and brother Lucas, 8
Harry Rupil seems like any other boisterous, Mario Kart-loving five-year-old preschooler who cannot wait to start school. But when Harry was born, he failed his first hearing test. It came as a shock to his parents, Cailin and Marc Rupil, that their six-week-old baby had been diagnosed with profound hearing loss. "It was awful but of course your thoughts are just originally like, what's his future going to look like? You just think worst-case scenario," Mrs Rupil said.
Harry was fitted with hearing aids and then got cochlear implants at the age of six months. His eye lit up as a new world of sound was switched on. The family started doing therapy with The Shepherd Centre to develop his listening and spoken language skills with the hope that he would be able to start school with speaking abilities on par with his hearing peers.
Mrs Rupil said despite ups and downs in the past five years, that dream has been realised.
Harry dons his graduation cap to celebrate the end of the program, along with three other children in Canberra and 62 children across Australia. The family gathers for the live-streamed ceremony and share a cake to mark the important milestone.
Chief executive of The Shepherd Centre Dr Jim Hungerford said the charity had experienced some concerning impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "Children with hearing loss really need to get their support absolutely as early as possible in their life because otherwise if their brains don't get the right stimulation they can lose the ability to even listen let alone the spoken language ability," Dr Hungerford said. "But then because of COVID parents have been very very worried about reaching out and engaging in face-to-face services and so that then led to a drop in the number of families reaching out and getting help. Happily that's starting to recover now but yes, there has been a drop and that's a huge concern to us."
The registered charity spends an average of $14,000 per year to deliver services to each child. The government funds less than 50 per cent of these costs through NDIS funding and the rest of the expenses are covered by philanthropy. The Shepherd Centre saw a 30 per cent drop in funding this year as the investment income of their major donors took a hit.
"It's also critically important because these families are trusting their child's future to us. We need to be able to do the right thing to support them, regardless of whether they've got any NDIS funding, and they need to know that we're going to be around for the years to come."
Mr Rupil's grandmother donated to the charity for many years, unaware that her great-grandson would benefit from their services. It was a great relief to the Rupils to know they wouldn't be left out of pocket for Harry's speech therapy. Mr Rupil said their youngest son has kept the family of five on their toes ever since he was born. "He's nonstop... From a young age, he couldn't walk but he was riding scooters. He was determined to give things a go."
After Christmas, the countdown to Harry's first day of kindergarten at Holy Spirit Primary School will begin. "We're just so thankful that there is a cochlear implant because it would have been a different kettle of fish if that wasn't the case," Mrs Rupil said. "The fact that he can go to a mainstream school and play with his brother and sister, and besides from his cochlear implants, the world is his oyster as well so it's up to him what he wants to do with it.