Everyday Heroes: The Sound of Giving

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“Everyday Heroes: The Sound of Giving,” New Era, May 2006, 12–14

Everyday Heroes:

The Sound of Giving

One girl with determination changed the life of a teacher.

The sound of raindrops on the car windshield. The chirp of crickets on a summer night. The distressing cry of a baby. The ringing of the telephone down the hall. All everyday sounds, but they are sounds that are becoming part of Shellee Carrick’s life now that she no longer lives in silence.

Shellee has been deaf since she lost most of her hearing during a case of meningitis when she was 18 months old. But now, thanks to the efforts of Kristina Coleman, a student at Pleasant Grove High School in Utah, where Shellee is the American Sign Language teacher, Shellee has received a cochlear implant and is now being introduced to the noisy, musical, thumping sounds that surround her.

But the sounds that motivated her, that made her go along with the amazing offer made by one of the studentbody officers at the high school, the sounds she wanted to hear more than anything, were the sweet voices of her little children.

The story of how these two young women met and became friends is a great one with a happy ending. As she prepared to graduate from high school, Kristina was required, as were all others in her class, to complete a project during her senior year. She heard some friends who were taking Shellee’s sign language class talking about cochlear implants. These devices are surgically implanted in the inner ear with a microphone and digital processor worn outside, under the hair. At first, Kristina was only going to write a paper about the technology. But because Shellee wanted the implant so badly, Kristina’s plans soon became more elaborate. What is even more remarkable about Kristina’s determination is that she really did not know Shellee well and wasn’t one of her students.

Looking back, Kristina says, “I do think Heavenly Father inspired me to do this project. I think several things prepared me for this.”

Kristina was serving as student body historian. Just being on student council and having to plan events and speak to strangers prepared Kristina for the work she would do to help Shellee get a cochlear implant.

The implants and accompanying surgery are expensive, and Shellee’s insurance would not cover them. At first, Kristina thought it would be easy to raise the money. She planned to e-mail many places explaining the need, and then the funds would pour in. Kristina says, “That didn’t work at all. I didn’t get one donation that way. I was going to have to call personally. The first phone call was hard; then it just got easier.”

Kristina found a grant program where Shellee could apply to get the device donated. Then it was just the cost of the surgery, a much more attainable amount, that needed to be raised. When news that Shellee qualified for the grant arrived, she called Kristina to her classroom and announced the news to Kristina and her students at the same time. Between the cheering and the crying, it was a great day.

Shellee underwent the operation, and her family and Kristina gathered on the day the implant was turned on for the first time. Shellee had been warned not to expect too much. Then her daughter, one-year-old Kylee, started crying, wanting to be held. Shellee turned to the small crowd in the room and asked incredulously, “Is that Kylee crying? I can hear her!”

Although implants are not the answer for everyone, Shellee has been intrigued with learning to figure out what the sounds she hears mean. “There are so many sounds I’ve never heard,” said Shellee. “I don’t know what they are. I have to learn like a baby does.” Austen, her four-year-old son, is delighted to demonstrate noises for his mom. He opens the front door and rings the doorbell or claps. Daily life has become both adventurous and frustrating. Shellee says that she didn’t realize how much Austen talks while she is driving.

Naturally, the relationship between Shellee and Kristina is a special one. During the months arranging everything, the two became close. “We e-mailed every day. We talked all the time,” said Shellee. “We became good friends. She will be part of my life forever.”

Kristina was excited with the outcome of her senior project. “I’ve cried so many times over this. Not only has Shellee received an implant, but I have a new friend. It’s changed my life. I learned what the power of one person or a group of people can do. Just to know that you can do things that seem impossible at first is great.”

Making the Cover

About 12 years ago, Shellee was a cheerleader at the same high school where she is now a teacher.

A deaf cheerleader! That sounds like the subject for a New Era story. And in fact it was.

Shellee appeared on the cover of the October 1993 issue. She was a happy teen with many friends, a successful student, and proud to be part of the deaf community. After high school, she went on to college then served a full-time mission, teaching the gospel to the deaf in Nebraska, California, and New York.

When Shellee first met Sam Carrick, the man who would become her husband, she thought he was arrogant and stuck-up because he wouldn’t talk to her. He defends himself now by explaining, “I had never met a deaf person. I didn’t know how to talk to her.” It took him just days to find out that Shellee was easy to talk to. She was fun and outgoing, and she could read lips.

When they met, Shellee was serving a mission to the deaf and was assigned to the California Riverside Mission for a few months. Sam was her zone leader. He was impressed, he says, “with her ability to succeed.” After their missions, they found they had a lot in common. Sam found that Shellee loved the outdoors like he did. Now Shellee and Sam live in Utah with their two children, Austen and Kylee.

Photography by Janet Thomas and courtesy of Shellee Carrick; image of bee © Nova Development; shell and clock © Getty Images

Austen, Shellee’s son (above), rings the doorbell for his mother to hear. Shellee (below, left, holding Kylee) is delighted and touched by the efforts of her new friend Kristina (below, right).