Children Give the Gift of Hearing

Friends Sarah Gonzalez (age 11) and Julia Zager (age 10) run together to raise money for the Bolesta Center in the University of South Florida’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and help give the gift of hearing.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, more than 188,000 people worldwide have received Cochlear implants, medical devices that can bypass damaged inner-ear structures and stimulate the auditory nerve directly, allowing the receiver to hear. Though these implants are not a replacement for normal hearing, they can create a range of sound, and since they can be provided for children as young as 12 months old, they can be a dream come true for parents whose young children suffer from profound hearing loss.

However, Cochlear implants are not easy to come by. Not only must the patient qualify for the implant, they must also pay for visits and the technology to restore hearing. Though the cost of Cochlear implants is covered by most insurance plans, not all plans cover the procedure and device. For many families, Cochlear implants are yet another difficult hurdle to cross.

Sarah Gonzalez and her family know this all too well.

Sarah, who was born profoundly deaf was fortunate enough to receive one of the first Cochlear implants.

“Twelve years ago, Cochlear implants were not as popular as they are now,” says Liz Gonzalez, Sarah’s mother. “There were not many surgeons who could or would implant children, and the one who had the most experience in our city – Denver, at the time – was not in our network. I wrote Dr. David Kelsall a letter asking him to help Sarah, never really expecting a follow up. He called a few days later and told me that he would not only implant Sarah, but he would waive all of her office visits. We promised him that one day we would repay him for his kindness.”


A Tale of Two Families

Sarah Gonzalez and her long-time friend Julia Zager have dedicated themselves to raising money to help those suffering from hearing loss receive the gift of hearing. This enduring relationship that spans more than a decade and multiple state lines has had a profound impact on the Bolesta Center in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and many youths in the Tampa Bay area. The Gonzalez and Zager families met in Houston, Texas when Julia Zager and Sarah Gonzalez were just one and two years-old respectively.

Allison Zager says that the Gonzalez family is an inspiration. “I’ve always admired their family because they have always strived to provide the best for Sarah. Liz has always been on top of Sarah's medical care, social development, and language development.  She stays up on the research and knows what is new for children like Sarah.”

Allison also says that the family strives to create consistency for Sarah despite the medical difficulties she has faced. “I know some parents whose children have impairments have difficulty handling the situation,” says Allison. “They have always handled it with grace and confidence.  It has been an inspiration to me.”


Bringing the vision to Tampa

Five years after Sarah received her Cochlear implant, the Gonzalez family started raising money and participating in running events to help Dr. Kelsall and his Cochlear implant program, which seeks to provide implants to adults and children who cannot afford the procedure. The success of Sarah’s Run turned it into an annual effort.

That pay-it-forward attitude was then carried to Tampa, where both the Gonzalez and Zager families now live. Julia and Sarah’s fathers both work for Moffitt Cancer, the girls dance together and live a mere 20 minutes apart. In 2014, the Gonzalez family decided to bring their efforts closer to their new home and form Sarah’s Run to benefit the Bolesta Center. The action has gathered momentum in the community, especially with Corbett Preparatory, Sarah’s school, which holds their annual book sale with proceeds going towards the run. Corbett Preparatory encourages students to give back to their communities by adopting “causes” and soliciting donations. This cause was obviously a natural fit for Sarah, who has been raising money to combat hearing loss for years.

Though Julia and Sarah do not attend the same school, the girls and their families maintain a close relationship. Julia volunteered to help Sarah with this year’s run, and both girls trained and ran the same race called “Color Me Rad” in May to raise money for the Bolesta Center.

“They had so much fun,” says Liz. “They plan to do it again next year.

“We may not raise a large amount,” Liz continues, “usually about $3,000 a year, but every little bit counts, and nobody should be denied the gift of hearing.”

Over the summer, Sarah and Allison are planning visits to the center that will allow them to meet the families who have benefitted from their generosity. Both families intend to continue their commitment to the Bolesta Center and raising funds to help those suffering from hearing loss.

For more information, regarding the Bolesta Center or Sarah’s next run, contact the Bolesta Center at USF.