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March 27, 2004

Deaf, hard of hearing enjoy a day of curling

From: Mesabi Daily News - Virginia,MN,USA - Mar 27, 2004

Angie Riebe
Mesabi Daily News

EVELETH — More than a dozen rosy-cheeked children smiled and giggled while taking turns sliding rocks down the ice at the Range Recreation Civic Center Curling Club Saturday.

For many, like 9-year-old Brady Mistic of Saginaw, Minn., it was their first time curling.

Brady excitedly followed his rock down to the house, proud to show his mother, Cindy Bruning, his new skill.

But the afternoon of curling was more than just a Saturday activity for the kids and adults who attended the event. It was a chance for families with deaf and hard of hearing children, and deaf and hard of hearing adults, to socialize, learn about new tools and resources for those so impaired and share information with each other.

The event, in its 20th year, began as a group of parents in northeastern Minnesota decided to gather annually so their children could play with other children with hearing difficulties.

For years they met at the Chisholm recreation center to swim and socialize. But recently, the event was moved to the curling club so the kids could try a new activity.

University of Minnesota-Duluth sign language students played games with the kids, and presenters talked briefly with parents and adults before the kids hit the ice.

Funding for the event and lunch was provided by the Eveleth and Ely Lions clubs and the Ely Veterans organization.

The kids, ranging in age from 4 to 19, have various degrees of hearing loss, said Cindy Otto, regional manager of a Northeastern Minnesota service for the deaf and hard of hearing. Some are completely deaf, some have hearing aids or cochlear electronic implants that assist with hearing. Some use sign language and some used cued speech, a lip reading technique.

Many adults with hearing loss have attended through the years to show support for the families who come from throughout the area, including International Falls, Grand Rapids, Duluth and Northern Wisconsin, Otto said.

Larry Romanowicz of Grand Rapids, who is hard of hearing, and his wife, Terri, who is deaf, have been regulars at the event. They used to bring their hearing children when they were small, Larry Romanowicz said. "It's a fun time," he said.

It's helpful to be around other families with deaf and hard of hearing children, Bruning said as her son played on the ice.

Brady had a cochlear implant put in at the Mayo Clinic three years ago and can hear a small amount with the help of the electronic device implanted into the inner ear, enabling a deaf person to hear sounds. But without it he is completely deaf, she said.

Brady thought the curling was "fun" he said, signing to his mother. There was "good food" and "the games were fun," he said.

Shelley Svatos of Iron watched as her son Matt, 19, joined in the curling. He was just a baby when they attended the first event.

The yearly gathering is a good way to brush up on sign language and talk with other parents, Svatos said.

Matt was diagnosed as being deaf at 6 months old and began learning sign language at 10 months, said his mother, who has two older hearing children.

"Socially it has not always been easy" for her son, she said. Though he is a bit shy, he is persistent, she said. "He's doing good. He's used to being around hearing people." Though he does not read lips, he communicates with hearing people by writing notes.

"There have been difficult times, but it hasn't been a burden at all," Svatos said.

The Virginia school system provided Matt with interpreters and his teachers were accommodating, she said. He is now attending Lake Superior College in Duluth and working summers at Ironworld.

At home, Matt has a detector on his door that flashes when someone knocks, and a strobe fire alarm is installed in his room. He communicates with family and friends online and with the assistance of a TTY phone that uses text messages.

Svatos said doctors indicated that something was wrong when she took Matt in for his baby checkups, and she was afraid he might have a terminal condition. When he was diagnosed at Children's Hospital in St. Paul, she felt "relived," because she knew she could deal with her son being deaf. It was more difficult news for her husband, she said.

In elementary school Svatos and a friend had learned sign language as a fun way to communicate with each other, she said. "Here many years later I'm using it to communicate with one of my children."

But translations are not always exact, she said. "Not a day goes by where there isn't miscommunication."

Kristen Swan, a health and wellness nurse who works with the deaf and hard of hearing at Regions Hospital in St. Paul addressed communication issues during a short presentation Saturday.

She told the story of a child who always thought his grandmother was telling him he was "no good," when she actually was saying "so good." "Communication is critical," Swan said.

Children who are deaf and hard of hearing "need to be able to laugh at themselves," she said.

They should be encouraged to do everything a hearing child can do, she said. "They may sense that someone in the family is upset before anyone else. That's a gift."

Judy Klopp, a health educator for the deaf and hard of hearing in the Twin Cities also spoke about various programs for Minnesota families.

And Jerry Pouliot, who works for Minnesota Relay in St. Paul, a phone communication service for the deaf and hard of hearing, talked about new phone technology that uses voice recognition.

Pouliot, who is deaf but can hear with the assistance of a hearing aid, said the he used the phone to talk with his father in Montana. "It was the first time I heard my dad's voice in many years," he said. "I got off phone and started crying."

Nancy Crane, a regional consultant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said the day's event is a good way for area families to learn about such services. But more importantly, it's a day for kids and their parents to have fun.

However, the support never hurts, said Svatos, who has relied on advice "from parents ahead of me" who have raised children who are deaf. "There are advocates out there," she said.


Angie Riebe covers Ely, Tower, Soudan and the Lake Vermilion areas. She can be reached by phone at 741-5544 or e-mail at

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