Poppy and Maddy's story
Posted by Sarah O'Brien
Poppy Nicholson is a happy, confident 17-year-old who embraces every challenge that life throws her way. She feels her smooth journey through her teens is thanks in no small measure to hearing dog Maddy, her faithful companion of eight years. We first caught up with Poppy and Maddy five years ago, and it's fantastic to see how the partnership has flourished ever since.
Having completed her A’ levels in the summer, Poppy is poised ready for her next challenge as she steps into the world of employment. But life hasn’t always been so smooth as she nearly didn’t make it past three months old…
Born preterm at 27 weeks, Poppy spent her first 12 weeks on a ventilator in neo-natal intensive care fighting for her life. She had a hole in her heart, developed scalded skin syndrome, stage II retinopathy. She suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage, which is often fatal, and received six blood transfusions. On a chilly afternoon in March 2001, Poppy was baptised and given the last rites.
Mum Liv remembers it as if it was yesterday: “It was a harrowing experience for Keith and I, we’d been through so much. I held Poppy possibly for the last time and said to her; ‘if you can’t hang on and be strong, if you’re in too much pain then don’t fight, we’ll understand.’ It was very emotional. But somehow she clung onto her life and we took her home weighing just 4lbs.
“When Poppy was diagnosed with hearing loss age two-and-a-half, Poppy accepted her hearing aids immediately. She was fascinated with this whole new world that had opened up to her.
“Time and again at routine checks Poppy was labelled a miracle child; her lungs healed up and her heart murmur disappeared. We all compensated for Poppy’s lack of hearing, without specifically realising what we were doing. We planned ahead and adopted strategies so that Poppy never saw her hearing loss as a barrier.
“Poppy has innate courage and a determination to embrace life and all it has to offer. So when she started to become anxious at bed time it was very out of character. She would constantly come down to check we were still there as she couldn’t hear anything without her hearing aids. And I’m not just talking about one or two nights. This impacted on her getting a good night’s sleep from the moment she became aware of her surroundings until, aged nine, she was partnered with Maddy her hearing dog.
“From the moment that little dog entered our lives, Poppy has been an amazing sleeper – and we all know the importance of sleep to our long term health and well-being.
“The difference Maddy makes to Poppy is incredible because from the age of nine Poppy has grown up feeling proud of Maddy and not really remembering any awkwardness about her hearing aids.
“Before, Poppy would rather pretend that she’d heard something and hide her hearing aids behind her hair. But with Maddy by her side it was completely different. That’s the best part I think – the fact that these wonderful dogs act as ice-breakers. People approach Poppy and Maddy and communicate straight away. This still happens all the time and I truly think it’s the best thing ever.
“I think if you’re different in anyway, school can be a daunting place. Interestingly Poppy’s inner confidence has remained high throughout secondary school and I feel Maddy has been instrumental in this.
“Maddy played a big part in Poppy’s education. She was often invited into Drama classes to play parts alongside Poppy – the other kids loved it. We noticed that Poppy had started to discuss her deafness openly, I was amazed. When Poppy started secondary school she chose to wear her hair up every day, not bothered in the slightest that she wore hearing aids; she was just like a child wearing glasses.
“Poppy and I have always been able to communicate well at home. After school we would sit on her bed along with Maddy; it was our time to chat and stay on top of any worries she had. I tried to bring Poppy up with a little bit of ‘tough’ so she could deal with anyone unkind. There have probably only been a couple of tricky situations in her school life and she’s dealt with them admirably. I never worry about Poppy now, I only admire her. She stays calm when under pressure and handles difficult situations far better than most adults.
“We will never know the exact cause of Poppy’s deafness although it’s likely that the strong anti-biotics she was given to fight the infections in those first three months contributed to sensory neural damage. But actually it doesn’t matter – the most important thing is Poppy survived. All Keith and I have ever wanted for Poppy is for her to feel happy and enjoy life to the full. So far – she achieves this every day."
What Poppy says...
“Maddy has been part of my life since I was nine and now I am 17, it is hard to imagine growing up without her. Perhaps the fact that Maddy was by side during those crucial school years is why I have such a positive memory of growing up being deaf and why I now feel well informed to make positive decisions for my own future.
“Maddy has given me the confidence to make choices to suit me and help myself. Had I not had the strength Maddy has given me, I could have easily been persuaded by teachers and career advisers to go to Uni. Instead I am applying for a work apprenticeship in marketing.
“Maddy has helped me gain more confidence about being deaf and I wouldn’t change any of it. Being deaf is a part of me. It’s what makes me who I am and I’m very happy with that."
Poppy and Maddy feature in the Autumn edition of Favour.
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