EXCHANGE: Nurse overcame severe lifelong hearing impairment
ALTON, Ill. (AP) — OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center registered nurse April Dawn Ferguson sets examples for peers and community alike, particularly those overcoming disabilities.
April Dawn — named for the month and time of day she was born in 1989 — has congenital hearing loss in both ears, but overcame this obstacle and challenge, not only through self-determination, but also because of strong support systems, such as family and health professionals. April, 29, of Godfrey, made a serious contemplative decision when she was age 20 to get a cochlear implant — a surgically implanted neuroprosthetic device — for which she has no regrets.
She started wearing hearing aids when she was 2 and at age 3, she attended a pre-school-age class for the hearing impaired, held at South Roxana Elementary School. April made such strides that, in short order, she went on to enroll in mainstream education, graduating from Alton High School in 2007.
Oddly enough, April’s father, Kurt Ferguson, before he ever met his future wife and April’s mother, Zoe Ferguson, felt what could be considered a premonition. In college — more than 10 years before April’s birth — he learned sign language during the summer between his junior and senior year.
“It all started in 1975,” Kurt recalled. “I felt I would probably date a deaf woman, so I took that class. I learned to read lips before I was five years old, because I had ear problems myself, having my eardrums lanced four times as a child (now children have ‘tubes in their ears’ for such problems). A tonsillectomy fixed my hearing problems, but reading lips really became important, because April reads lips like crazy.”
April’s parents met when Kurt moved, from Iowa, to Alton, Illinois, in 1985, to work as an underwriter for Millers Mutual Insurance Co., where Zoe also worked. Kurt approached Zoe by saying in sign language, “I think you are a beautiful girl.” They began dating about three months later and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Zoe learned sign language once the couple discovered their youngest child was hearing impaired.
When April was slow to start speaking, her parents began to wonder why.
“At three years old, I couldn’t get her to shut up,” April’s dad said, proudly.
April, born at Alton Memorial Hospital, underwent Auditory Brainstem Response testing at St. Louis’ SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital when she was 1.5 years old. She was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss, at first using a temporary hearing aid that her parents moved from ear to ear, unsure what was enough aid to help her hear. Three months later, they ordered two hearing aids. At age 2, April also underwent speech therapy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“We waited for the ‘aha moment’ with the temporary aid, but nothing happened,” Kurt and Zoe recalled to Health Watch.
Thereafter, April visited Cardinal Glennon once a year and excelled in school, as she does to this day, currently enrolled at SIUE, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She received an associates in science and an Associate of Science of Nursing in 2015 from Lewis and Clark Community College, in Godfrey, and now works full time at Alton’s Saint Anthony’s intensive care unit.
For kindergarten, April attended school full days, with one half the day in class for hearing impaired, and one half in mainstream class, in the same building at South Roxana Elementary. Then, for first grade, she continued with mainstream education only, at the former J B Johnson Elementary School (in the Alton district, where AHS is now). In second grade, April received the annual Alton Administrators’ Excellence In Education Award, for which her teachers described her as “well rounded” and “progressing in leaps and bounds.” At the time, only 34 students received Alton Administrators’ awards, out of more than 7,000 students.
April also achieved perfect attendance during first and second grades that her parents fondly chalk up to April’s “FOMO” — fear of missing out. If not for her dad making her stay home from school one day in third grade due to a high fever, she would have had perfect attendance throughout her primary and secondary school years, with the exception of one-half day in junior high and an excused absence on “senior skip day” in 12th grade. And, she achieved perfect attendance in nursing school.
“When I told her she wasn’t going to school that day in third grade, the look on her face said it all,” her dad said. “She cried.”
Additionally, April’s early education included playing the violin starting in fourth grade, making first chair that first year; cheerleading in seventh and eighth grades; and, dance team during high school.
In sixth grade, when students move from classroom to classroom, April decided to discontinue using a Phonic Ear device, which she had utilized since starting her primary education.
“I was never inclined or encouraged to hide my hearing impairment, but I had to get a microphone from each classroom, each time, and I was over it,” she recalled to Health Watch. “I relied on lip reading, my hearing aids and communication at the beginning of each year with my teachers.”
The next hurdle April encountered, at age 16, was finding her first part-time job, for which those hiring at the time did not seem keen to hire a hearing-impaired applicant, she noted.
“I applied, in person, for tons of jobs,” said April, who finally got her first job, readily hired by Ferguson family friend Bill Huebener at Huebener Dairy Barn in Brighton, where she worked from 2005 through 2008; she worked at an Alton chain restaurant from 2008 through 2013, with help from her sister, Alicia “Ali” (Ferguson) Berns, who already worked there, and from Bill’s wife, Gayle, since the restaurant’s management seemed hesitant to hire her.
Then, while still attending school at LCCC, where April enrolled in fall 2007, she worked at Schnucks Pharmacy, for which she became a certified pharmacy technician and worked from 2013 through 2016. She began her first nursing position at Saint Anthony’s in 2016.
April still uses facial expressions of others to pick up on social cues. Once, as a child, she asked her dad what was wrong; he said, “Nothing, why?” She explained that he wasn’t smiling.
“So, ever since, I make sure I’m smiling,” he said. “She has always cared about the feelings of others, which has worked perfectly in providing TLC to her patients. She was destined to be a nurse.”
April, a multiple nominee for the international nursing honor, the Daisy Award, who won once in recent years, said the same about herself. She also was voted Best Nurse in the Riverbend in The Telegraph’s Best of The Best contest last fall.
“I don’t think I had any one inspiration to choose my profession,” she noted. “I’ve always been an empathetic being and always been drawn to the hospital setting. I love getting to put my touch on a person’s journey in their life.”
Source: The (Alton) Telegraph, https://bit.ly/2UcEpVs
Information from: The Telegraph, http://www.thetelegraph.com