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May 10, 2004

Former Miss America talks of struggle upon regaining her hearing

From:, AL - May 10, 2004

The Associated Press 5/10/2004, 3:06 p.m. CT

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum said the surgery that restored her hearing left her feeling angry because of painful, unfamiliar noises, before she found solace in faith.

Speaking to a Shelby County congregation on Mother's Day, McCallum said even the sound of a child's sniffle could cause pain as she struggled in frustration to make sense of sounds she hadn't heard in 28 years.

McCallum, 31, who grew up in Pelham, near Birmingham, and now lives in Atlanta, won the Miss America crown in September 1994 in a triumph over deafness. She had a cochlear implant placed in her right ear in August 2002 so she could hear her two young sons if they cried for help.

Instead, she said she wound up pleading with the boys — John, 4, and James, 2 — to stop sniffling and making other noises that were unfamiliar and sometimes painful.

The boys told people their mother was sad, she said, and she told herself that she was an unfit mother. After her husband admitted he no longer enjoyed coming home, she decided to seek Christian counseling.

"I realized a cheerful heart is good medicine," McCallum told worshippers at Valleydale Baptist Church on Sunday. "It is not easy to be a mother."

McCallam did not immediately return an Associated Press request for comment that was sent by e-mail Monday through her representative.

In her church talk, reported by The Birmingham News, she told the crowd of about 1,400 of her own mother's struggles after learning her 18-month-old daughter had lost her hearing after a bout with the haemophilus influenza virus.

McCallum said her mother, Daphne Gray, had directed her anger at God until she read of another mother of a disabled child. That mother, Gray read, believed God had given her the child because she was strong enough to be a good parent through great difficulties.

"That changed my mom's heart," McCallum said.

Gray pushed her daughter to function in the hearing world, learning only two words in sign language — "party" and "cut it out," McCallum said.

McCallum often resented her mother's stance but eventually found success, culminating in winning the Miss America pageant.

"Now I can say, 'Thank you, Mama,'" McCallum said to her mother, who was in the audience. "Thank you, and happy Mother's Day."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.