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Ana Today

My mother kindly let us use our family home in the residential quarter that greatly improved our life's quality and rhythm. It is in a street with family houses, yards and gardens, 15 minutes' walk from the very city center. Thus the rehabilitation centers, medical care institutions and the kindergarten were within closer reach, all within a range of a few kilometers. From spring 2000, we no longer had to commute between the city center and the suburbs where we had lived for about eight years. This greatly improved the quality of rehabilitation and Ana's working energy. Long drives, that were until that point a daily thing, were now limited to weekends and visits to Ana's grandmother in Zapresic.

Supetar on the island of Brac, 2000

Spending our summer vacation at the seaside focused our attention. Ana was more mobile, self-aware and independent, which required more attention and effort to coordinate our living schedules. She enjoyed swimming, but it significantly affected our communication because she could not wear her device. We could not let her swim without supervision and we could not stop her by simply calling out to her. Other people were unaware of her hearing problem and just assumed that she could hear and respond to their warnings, because her behavior was no different than the behavior of other children. This was a great risk. Ana could also get easily lost in a crowd during evening strolls through the small seaside town. The evening was a particularly risky time, because the batteries, which we had inserted in the morning, would already be low. People did not realize that she might not be able to comprehend their remarks or warnings. We always had to keep an eye on her.

Aunt Inoslava and Ana at the kindergarten

In autumn, Ana started to attend a regular kindergarten. Unfortunately, we could no longer keep her in our Evangelic Kindergarten, since German is the language in use there, and Ana's priority was to become fluent in Croatian. There would be plenty of time to learn foreign languages later. We feared that we might have complications enrolling her in the "Vedri dani" kindergarten, but after a routine interview with the kindergarten psychologist everything went smoothly. She blended in easily at the kindergarten, which we believe was run extremely well, and she had no communication difficulties with other children. The kindergarten-teachers, Aunt Inoslava and Aunt Dubravka, had no problems with respect to her handicap. We also supplied them with some basic information and the brochure on the cochlear implant printed by our Association.

Matija and Ana

Her friend Matija also stopped attending the rehabilitation group at SUVAG and enrolled in the same kindergarten class. The Roglic family and we expressly asked for them to be put in the same class. Matija was of great support and a role model for Ana. She was no longer the only child with the "little machine" there, and, after all, Matija was a boy. The two of them share the same experience and they had become friends back in their SUVAG days. They attended Aunt Mia's group together and they still go to rehabilitation sessions with Aunt Dunja. Our families also get together occasionally, outside kindergarten. Although their shared life in the kindergarten was certainly beneficial, we had a little accident once. After the afternoon nap, Ana's and Matija's speech processors were accidentally swapped. Ana had no problems with Matija's program, but he was a little shocked by hers and he refused to have the transmitter connected. Her program was, namely, different, stronger and had a broader stimulation range, while his was a lot softer. Fortunately, there were no consequences as a result of this shock.

Currently Ana attends two weekly individual rehabilitation sessions at SUVAG, in addition to the regular kindergarten where she spends 6-8 hours a day, and another two weekly sessions at a private speech rehabilitation office. She also has occasional weekend sessions with a rehabilitation specialist at home, which greatly improves her progress. This is not merely our subjective assessment. However, we are now almost exhausted by the constant commuting. Thankfully, our family helps us whenever they can. In fact, without Grandmother Eva it would be really hard to achieve this schedule. Her role in the rehabilitation process is truly invaluable. She and Suzana's cousin Zeljka persistently and patiently take Ana through all of the exercises and drills recommended by Pofessor Zlataric and Doctor Drezancic.

At her grandmother's in Zaprešić

Ana's skillfulness, sport talent and physical fitness are a great challenge to us. We can control her riding on the four-wheeler bike, but I have a hard time accepting her desire to roller-skate, because I am afraid she could take a fall and hit her head. An unfortunate blow could break the electronic connections within the receiver beneath the skin. However, since other children enjoy roller-skating every day, we do not deny her a round of roller-skating on those weekends when she visits her Grandmother Eva in Zapresic. We gave in after several months of pleading and supplied her with all the necessary protective equipment and now she tries to maintain her balance on roller-skates with our assistance. The question is, for how long?

We are now beginning a new phase of speech training. We have to coordinate the programs of activities from many aspects and with the many different people who work with her. In addition to a more intense grammar education, the program projections of each audio-rehabilitation specialist and speech pathologist need to be coordinated. How does one do that? Should we adopt a broad approach or narrow our goals to specific areas? Many issues remain open. Fortunately, Professor Zlataric, Doctor Drezancic and Professor Alfirev follow and observe Ana's progress, each in her area of work, all of which are compatible. We believe that Ana gets the best from their experience.

Many people say that Ana is an exceptionally gifted child and that her progress should be attributed to that fact. On the other hand, we believe that, for the most part, it is the result of invested effort and hard work – hers, ours and that of the rehabilitation specialists who have worked with her. The program and the model that we applied in our child's rehabilitation over these two years after the surgery is based on:

  1. two years of work with a personal audio-rehabilitation specialist at the SUVAG Polyclinic, twice a week for one hour;
  2.  one year of daily work: three hours a day, every other week, within the group of children with implants at SUVAG; and on alternate weeks, whole-day stays at a regular kindergarten. After a year of this routine, Ana was able to attend a regular kindergarten with hearing children full time;
  3.  two years of work with a private audio-rehabilitation specialist, twice a month for two hours;
  4.  two years of work with a private speech pathologist, twice a week for one hour;
  5.  daily work in her family where she was involved in some activity, either a game or a chore, virtually all the time.
Daddy, Mummy and Ana

This is the model that we applied, but which cannot be taken as a ready-made pattern, because each child is unique and lives and grows up under different conditions and with a different predisposition. It is emphasized that this is the model that Ana obviously responded well to. We can only speculate as to how a second child (if we had one) with the same problem would respond. We believe we work hard and are on the right path, although there is still room for improvement. However, we have not done one thing that would not only significantly help her in her progress, but also in life. We have not given her a brother or a sister. Our fears, which are of course unfounded, are still too great. Our friends who have children with cochlear implants had the courage to have more children. Those in Zagreb had a second son Grga and those in New York had a second daughter Margeaux, and I must admit I admire and envy them.

This is my story. My wife certainly has her own, a surely deeper and self-sacrificing one, with memories enriched by more details. We still wait for Ana's story. However, one has to be careful about my experience and my happiness, because they can be misleading. Our happy family, featured in Ana's drawing, wishes to share the happiness with you.

P. S.

Since there is profound symbolism and meaning to everything, the story of Ana could not end without connecting all story lines and closing a circle.

Antun Mateš: Jerusalem, aquatint

Just before I finished writing it, with many refreshed memories still haunting me, I told a close friend about the common thread connecting Ana, Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall and Dr. Cohen. He listened compassionately, at the moment when I allowed myself to be a little more emotional than usual. Inspired by these symbolic events, Antun Mateš, a Croatian painter and graphic artist gave me his work of art, Jerusalem, for Dr. Cohen, from the famous collection of graphic art Cities of the World – Dawn of the New Millennium [4]. Thank you, Mateš.

[4] Antun Mateš, Cities of the World, Dawn of the Millennium, LOMA, Zagreb 2000.