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May 19, 2003

World of Surprises

From: CNN - May 19, 2003

Aired May 19, 2003 - 09:49 ET


SOPHIA CHOI, CNN ANCHOR: She was deaf since she was 18 months old. Heather Whitestone McCallum has spent a lifetime listening to her heart. She made history in 1995 as the first person with a disability to be crowned Miss America. What a night that was. Now since then, she's become a wife, a mother, and blazed yet another trail. Heather received a Cochlear implant last year. The device has enabled her to clearly hear her family's voices, and now she has written a third book called "Let God Surprise You," and Heather Whitestone McCallum is joining us this morning.

Thank you nor joining us.

HEATHER WHITESTONE MCCALLUM, MISS AMERICA 1995: Thank you. I'm glad to be here to share good news with everyone.

CHOI: Yes, well, this new book, it's kind of a compilation of Bible stories, as well as stories from times, how the belief in God surprises you.

MCCALLUM: Exactly. Yes.

CHOI: So, personally, what has been the biggest surprise in your life?

MCCALLUM: The biggest surprise was when I felt in my heart that God called me to be a ballerina, so that when I graduated from high school and I told my family I know God wants me to dance for him, and I'm going to dance ministry, and my family said, no, you have to go to college. And when I go, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) University, it's wonderful, did not have a ballet class, but I won the first runner-up to miss America there, I chose to obey God by obeying my parents. So I went to college, and this woman, she helped me compete for the Miss America Pageant, and I danced in front of 40 million people, live.

CHOI: I watched you that night, I watched you, and I remember it clearly. It was such an inspiration to watch you win and dance that night.

You have been an inspiration to so many people, and now you're making another step forward with this Cochlear implant. Tell me were you decided to get this Cochlear implant?

MCCALLUM: I thought I was doing well, until I had my boys. And I was communicating well enough. I could hear the dance with the help of my hearing aid, and when my older son became more independent, started walking away from me, speaking more often, he taught me there was more sound I missed. He asked me a question, mom, where is this sound coming from? I said, darling, I don't know, I can't hear what you hear. And then, more importantly, he fell down in the backyard and cried, and I didn't hear him cry, and my husband did, and it bothered me in a great way.

So I decided to have the Cochlear implant, and now I have it for nine months. I could not believe how much more sound I heard now. I can't believe how well I communicate with the sound I had from my hearing aid alone, and now I'm wearing both hearing aid and Cochlear implant together, and my brain developed a central auditory pathway, which helped me to have a better understanding of speech.

CHOI: But it hasn't been smooth sailing with the Cochlear implant from day one. I mean, you had to go through a transition period. You, in fact, got overwhelmed by the sounds you were hearing?

MCCALLUM: And the very beginning, like you are in a different town, you hear people speaking, but you don't understand their language. So when I heard the news sound, for a long time, I couldn't understand what it was coming from. For example, for three months, I kept hearing this sound, I said, what is this? What is this? Everyone said, oh, people are talking. I said, no, it's not this.

And then one day, I was in the car alone with my husband and my two boys, and I heard the same sound again. No one was talking. I said, OK, what is this? It was sniffing. My son was sniffing. I never heard sniffing before. And it was a difficult process, and it was frustrating, because you want to change for better. You have to go through a painful process first.

CHOI: And part of that painful process is some criticism from the deaf community. You were criticized when you were going to be Miss America, because you read lips instead of signed, and you are criticized now by some in the deaf community because you got this Cochlear implant.

MCCALLUM: I understand their perspective. But just many children, about 90 percent of deaf children, are born to hearing parents, and more often hearing parents want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for their deaf children, and children who cannot benefit from hearing aids, they get the Cochlear implant as a new way of hope to hear better, and that takes them way from sign language option, because the parents want the children to learn to speak and be part of their family life.

So, in a way, it's kind of like a threat to the deaf culture. But to me, I think it's wonderful that we're helping deaf children to have a better life.

However, there is a problem. There are children who cannot get help to have Cochlear implant because they are on waiting lists.

CHOI: Financial problems, I understand.

MCCALLUM: Financial problems. CHOI: Very expensive. We're going to have to end it there. Heather Whitestone McCallum, thank you so much for joining. And your new book, again, "Let God Surprise You." You certainly have surprised a lot of people in this nation and around the world, especially in the hearing-impaired community.

MCCALLUM: I appreciate your help, and I really want to give hope to other people who want to make their great (ph) dreams, and I don't want to them to give up, because there is always hope. They can find a way to solve the problems.

MCCALLUM: You are leading the way. Thank you again.


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