From silence to success, a story of overcoming the odds
Nineteen years ago, a healthy baby girl was born to parents Stephen and Pam Hammerschlag. Everything seemed perfect and blissful, but little did they know that their little princess wasn’t the baby they had dreamed of and their lives were soon going to change drastically.
At one year old, my parents found out that I was profoundly deaf in both ears, meaning I wasn’t able to hear the beautiful sounds and voices in the world. They had only two options: to accept my deafness, communicate with me in sign language, and get on with life as best as they could, or do everything in their power to make sure that I lived the life of any other normal child with the help of medical technology, which is the option they took.
We were fortunate to be able to afford cochlear implant surgery, enabling me to hear electronically. I underwent two implants on either side of my brain in order to insert electrodes which would stimulate my auditory nerve, thus enabling me to learn to hear. This would necessitate intense speech and hearing therapy to train my brain to co-operate with this new technology and manner of hearing and speaking. I feel immense gratitude towards my parents every single day for giving me this gift of hearing and the possibility of a bright future.
I started off in a special-needs school specifically for children with speech and hearing delay and/or impairment. In Grade R, I was given the opportunity to try mainstream school at King David Linksfield (KDL). I knew I was different from the other kids and they did too, but I feel an immense sense of gratitude towards my grade as they didn’t shame or bully me for being the girl with “weird things on her ears”. I was treated as one of them.
Everyone expected me to be average, if not below average, in academics throughout my school career, which was the case until Grade 7, the year my true colours started to show and I began to soar. I went from a C student in primary school to a B student, to an A student in high school. I thrived at KDL, but also experienced many challenges.
There were times I felt unworthy or incapable of achieving my goals. Grade 11 and matric were the hardest for me to navigate and, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the time I felt the most challenged. Grade 11 was an intense year academically, and I had to deal with the heartbreaking death of my grandmother who was my biggest supporter. As a result, I didn’t get amazing results at the end of that year.
My dream is to become a doctor and get into medical school. However, based on Grade 11, I thought that dream had been snatched away from me, and there was much disappointment from certain close relatives.
However, I was fortunate to be accepted into a Bachelor of Health Sciences (a back route into medicine) at the University of the Witwatersrand, which encouraged me to be optimistic in spite of everyone else’s scepticism. I experienced further challenges in my matric year such as fracturing my finger badly, contracting COVID-19, and not performing my best in both sets of prelims, to the extent that I received no recognition at all in the valedictory ceremony.
I was beyond disappointed, and felt ready to give up, because what was the point in continuing to try when there was only one month left to finals. However, I chose to persevere and revive my goal to do well in the finals, the result of which brings us to a week ago.
I would be lying if I said that my family and I believed I was going to achieve more than four distinctions out of seven subjects to the point where I thought achieving any higher than five was unrealistic.
It was with shock and disbelief when on the night of the release of results, I saw that I had far exceeded expectations and obtained six distinctions in spite of not having applied for any exam concessions including extra time (which almost half my grade had acquired).
In spite of a disability and delayed start, I became the first cochlear implant student at KDL to achieve distinctions. I couldn’t feel more blessed that Hashem gave me a second chance. Having said that, I still believe success in life isn’t really about distinctions, but about overcoming life challenges and evolving into the person you’re destined to become.
I look forward to accomplishing my goals and dreams and hopefully becoming a doctor one day. My message to all challenged and special-needs kids out there, whatever your age, is that just because you’re different or looked down upon by others, don’t allow it to define who you are and what your capabilities are. Believe in yourself no matter what, because anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
I would like to end off with a quote from Wonder by RJ Palacio that encapsulates what I’m trying to convey: “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.”
- Yakira Hammerschlag matriculated at King David Linksfield in 2022.