“Harris has given me back my smile”
Posted by Matt Sadler
When Shmita was just six years old she experienced a traumatic event that would change her life. It took away her smile and left her feeling sad, lonely and unable to communicate.
Amidst a backdrop of political unrest in Uganda, the country that Shmita and her family called home, tensions regularly spilled over into gunfire on the streets. One day, in the melee of an angry crowd, Shmita became separated from her sister. Terrified, as soon as she caught sight of her, Shmita ran blindly across the road in front of a speeding vehicle.
Miraculously, Shmita appeared unhurt but was taken to hospital as a precaution: “I don’t really remember much about what happened as I was in shock,” she explains. “The hospital said I was okay and sent me home, but a few days later my family noticed I wasn’t hearing them. The doctor said it was probably post traumatic shock, from the accident. Over the following weeks my hearing just got worse. It was very upsetting. Support for people with disabilities was very limited. We just managed as best we could.”
Shmita spent six more years attending school but receiving little education. “I went to a regular school in Uganda and as the only deaf child it was really tough. I got picked on by the other kids and I couldn’t hear the teachers.
“It wasn’t until we came to the UK that I was able to get any support for my deafness. Between the ages of six and 12 my world had been silent, lonely and full of anxiety. My father was so grateful to have access to so much support for me. I felt very fortunate to be given hearing aids, to learn sign language and get an education, which in turn enabled me to get a job.”
When she married, Shmita moved to a new area. The newly-weds started a family but, without friends or family close by, Shmita felt very much alone throughout her pregnancy.
“Trisha was my first child and that was quite an experience,” she explains. “My sister came with me to every scan and appointment as there was no communication support offered otherwise. After Trisha was born, I held her all the time, so I’d know if she was crying or needed feeding or changing. I just had to learn how to do things on my own. It was a very lonely and anxious time.
“When my second child Devika came along, Trisha was three – old enough to understand that I couldn’t hear important sounds – so she would let me know if Devika was crying. I came to rely on my daughters a lot. When they went away to university I was living on my own and the loneliness hit me very hard again. That’s when I applied for a hearing dog.
“Harris is amazing. The house no longer feels empty. The room lights up with Harris beside me and that makes me feel really, really, happy. I had been depressed and lonely for most of my life. Even after a cochlear implant five years ago, the feeling of loneliness was still there. I’m never lonely now. Harris also tells me about things I can’t hear with the implant, like when the microwave pings or someone is at the door or if the smoke alarm goes. I feel I’ve got that safety net with me all the time.”
Let’s leave the final words to Shmita’s daughter Trisha, who has helped her so much. “The meaning of Mum’s name, Shmita, is ‘smiling girl’. Mum smiles all the time now.
“Before, she would never have gone out by herself. Now, she takes Harris on the bus with her! He’s opened up so many new experiences for her.
“You can just see the happiness in her face. She now feels able to embrace life and be herself. She meets so many people when they’re out and about. People just come up to ask about Harris and he’s given her the confidence to feel able to communicate with anyone.
“Mum suffered from depression for so many years because of her deafness. It took away her smile and that was so sad. Harris has restored Mum’s smile and that means so much to the whole family.”
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