March 2017 Pretoria Star
LIFE-CHANGING SURGERY: Corban Venter, 10, and his sister Samantha, 8, with their parents Tania and Johan Venter after receiving cochlear implants in the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria.
“For the very first time my children will be able to hear my voice, and they will be the ears and eyes of our family.” These were the heartfelt words of the elated blind mother of two deaf children, who had a cochlear implant operation at the Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria. Parents Johan and Tania Venter both have 5% vision and are essentially blind. Their children, Corban, 10, and his eight-year-old sister Samantha, were born deaf. “I can’t wait for them to call me mom,” said a teary Tania, who suffered from a progressive degenerative eye-disease, retinitis pigmentosa, that left her blind. The family communicate by touch alone; the children cannot hear their parents speak and the parents cannot see their children sign.
The road leading to the operation hasn’t been easy, and they’ve tried to raise funds for the implants for many years. They eventually joined the Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss in Southern Africa, which works hand in hand with the Pretoria Ear Institute, where the cochlear implant operations were conducted. A fundraising campaign was established to raise more than R800 000. By the end of 2014, the siblings’ mother and the Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss had raised R136 000, leaving a shortfall of R668 000. The Nellie Atkinson Trust, managed by NedGroup Trust, stepped in with the outstanding money. Its spokesperson Lorenzo Davids said the delay in having the cochlear implants would have been detrimental to the children’s chances of a proper education, and of becoming independent and employable adults.
The Venters said although they were a unique family with disabilities, they tried to lead a normal life. Their biological father, who is sighted, left the family when the children were very young. Their mother recently married Johan, who is also blind. Johan said they had developed ways to carry out a conversation. The children know to knock and bang on doors and walls to attract their parents’ attention and help their parents with the daily chores around the house. He explained that when they are in public places like a mall or a park, they can’t call or see them, which made ensuring their safety difficult. They had to rely on external help. “And because they know we cannot see, they tell us colours and give us descriptions of pictures, events and clothing,” said Tania. They also help their mother to pair up her shoes and hold her hand to allow her to feel the texture of clothes. The children love looking at pictures, which they describe to their parents, and, like most girls her age, Samantha loves to take selfies. Corban and Samantha attend school at the Transoranje School for the Deaf across the road from their home in Pretoria West. Their mother is a teacher at Prinshof School for the Visually Impaired, while Johan works at the Tshwane University of Technology.