Born deaf, Brentwood Academy softball’s Lexi Vernon thrives, doesn’t survive | Williamson


Jaime Vernon absorbed the diagnosis.

Nearly two years after her daughter was born, a doctor finally determined that she was profoundly deaf. Lexi Vernon said no words and couldn’t hear anyone else. The lullabies that Jaime used to sing? Mittens removed.

Jaime’s husband Kevin left the room shaking. Jaime evoked a very specific and haunting sight: a school in the distance, his daughter standing alone, next to a leafless tree. She didn’t know what that meant at first.

“She was alone,” she said. “And I think I imagined the isolation for her.”

Now in eighth grade on the Brentwood Academy softball team, Lexi is only isolated when she enters the pitching circle, where she is having a stellar college year. In five games, Vernon (2-1) had a 2.86 ERA with 28 strikeouts on eight walks. At bat, she was batting .344 with 11 hits and two homers.

In a doubleheader earlier this month, she went wild, throwing her first college no-hitter against Ravenwood and then hitting her first college home run — a grand slam — against Franklin County.

Vernon’s once silent words now break the air with crispness. She can hear birds chirping, bats cracking and most other sounds too, thanks to small cochlear implants surgically inserted into each ear.

“I basically ask (people) to speak louder than usual, and I usually pick up,” Vernon said.

As a general rule, she cannot receive a college scholarship offer until the start of her freshman year. But Vernon already has about 30 college softball coaches, many from Division I, following her on Twitter, a telltale sign that a recruiting battle is underway.

His mother may smile watching games from inside her SUV outside the left field fence, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

Her daughter’s dynamic situation involves sophisticated technology that allows her to lead a fairly normal life.

But she also has to work hard on a regular basis to hear as much as she can.

Lexi Vernon on the day she first heard sound through cochlear implants, aged 19 months.

Vernon was born deaf, but was undiagnosed at birth. It is important to distinguish between these two things because the development of hearing and language starts early. Mothers talk and sing to their children in their wombs, and humans begin to establish vocabularies the day they come into the world.

The first 19 months of Vernon’s life were silent.

She fell through the cracks, not receiving any hearing screening at birth like most babies. Jamie still doesn’t know why this was the case. But that happened before the Tennessee state government passed Claire’s Law, which requires newborns to be screened for hearing loss before they are discharged or before they turn one month old. .

During a 10-week checkup, Vernon’s pediatrician noticed that her hearing was faulty. They recommended a visit to Vanderbilt Medical, where tests showed hearing impairment in both ears. The doctor told Jaime to bring his daughter back in six to nine months. “It should have been two to four weeks,” Jaime said. “It was so frustrating to find out that she never heard our whispers, our love, our comfort…She never heard our lullabies.”

For humans to hear, every sound must take its own dizzying journey. Sound waves travel through the ear canal to the eardrum, which vibrates the waves before sending them to the middle ear, where the vibrations are amplified and channeled into the snail-shaped cochlea. When vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, there are two sets of hair cells at each end of the cochlea that distinguish between high-pitched and low-pitched noises. Hair cells move, allowing even smaller cells perched on top of the hair to bend, causing microscopic channels to open and a subsequent chemical rush to the brain, through the auditory nerve, for processing .

Vernon’s hair cells don’t work. At 14 months, a doctor recommended that she have surgery for cochlear implants, which use a transmitter to send sound signals to a device implanted under the skin, which then stimulates the auditory nerve with electrodes that have been threaded into the cochlea.

At 19 months, Vernon was finally “activated,” as the audiology community calls it, and could immediately start hearing noises. Jaime would recount everything his daughter saw in order to locate the sound and fill in the gaps in her hearing. At 21 months, the mother and daughter were home alone, with the windows open and Jaime doing some cleaning, when Lexi blurted out “mom.”

“I was floored,” Jamie said.

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Brentwood Academy pitcher Lexi Vernon prepares for a pitch against Harpeth Hall on Thursday.

Three days a week, Lexi attended a preschool aimed at helping hearing-impaired children, and two days a week she attended a traditional preschool, in addition to receiving lessons at Mama Lere Hearing School in Vanderbilt.

At 5, she was tall for her age and could throw a ball with particular speed. Jaime, who briefly played Division III softball in college, thought she would hurt smaller girls, so she put her in boys’ coaching baseball for two years, even taking on the job of coach herself a season.

“There were a lot of men in that room,” Jaime recalls the day she volunteered to coach a team where her daughter was already one of the best players. “I just had to ask these guys, are you ready for this? Because we are going to win this thing.

Lexi drove the winning race to help her team win the league, her mother still proudly says.

Today, her biggest challenge in class is the language delay. At school, Vernon sits close to his instructors and takes vigorous notes. In the field, she must articulate where the sounds are coming from. There’s no guarantee she’ll hear a second baseman yell “Come on Lex!” before a big throw.

“If I’m really focused on the glove, sometimes I won’t hear anything else,” she said.

Brentwood Academy coaches have always used hand and verbal signals to call throws from the dugout, coach Greg Brown said, which is effective for Vernon. Hand signals have a long history in the game. Baseball historians debate whether umpire hand signals were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s to support one of the game’s first deaf players, William “Dummy” Hoy.

“You have referees of all types – some are animated, some use hand signals, then some mumble in low voices. She doesn’t like to say ‘huh?’ or ‘what was that?’ She just has to understand and think a lot,” Jaime said, likening the experience to someone with normal hearing sitting in the back row of a large conference room listening to a speaker up front.

“After three days in this conference room, you are taxed. It’s her every day,” she said. “She has to think about what she hears and process that information. In the field, this is the most difficult part. Mouths are covered, there is distance, masks are in place.

The naked eye can’t notice it: As a pitcher, Vernon looks like a powder keg of speed, with arm strength that unfolds on game days. Colleges are interested in his ability to throw a variety of pitches, including the elusive riseball.

“I just make sure she and I have eye contact from the dugout when I’m talking to her,” Brown said. “Sometimes we have a little interference, but I pick my points and make sure when we talk she and I are in eye contact. She obviously did a great job of adapting.

If she misses a pitch cue — which is rare, Brown said — Vernon simply picks one that she knows will work. It’s a bond she can share with other athletes. Brentwood Academy running back Deuce Scott also suffers from hearing loss, and it’s almost as if the two “are in their own world” when communicating, Jaime said.

“When I started playing, I was getting used to the environment. It was hard to get used to hearing. I just tried to get by,” Vernon said. for a while I was just like, this is who I am. And I was able to use my story to help others.

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