7-year-old Guatemalan boy hears for the first time in Fort Wayne

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)- A local not-for-profit organization has helped make the improbable, a reality.

On Monday, 7 year-old Jenri Rivera from Guatemala received the gift of hearing.

Jenri was born deaf and came to America last August to receive his life changing operation in Fort Wayne. Every bit of his operation was a donation.

The journey began three years ago with Erin Van Oordt of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She went on a mission trip to Guatemala where she first met Jenri.

“There was something special about him from the beginning,” Van Oordt said. “I started talking to him, and he couldn’t hear me. I knew my Spanish wasn’t that bad, so I started asking around and they said he hasn’t heard since he was little. I said we need to figure this out, and that’s when we started the whole process.”

After developing a relationship with him and his family, Erin’s next mission became having Jenri hear for the first time.

Erin received help with process from Ray of Hope Medical Missions, a not-for-profit group in Fort Wayne.

Founder of Ray of Hope, Rebecca Ghent, said when she first heard about Jenri’s story, she was ready to fight for him.

“A couple of local doctors here had worked with Ray of Hope and they contacted me,” Ghent said. “I had one phone call with Erin, and I was on board.”

In order to get Jenri to America on a Medical Visa, Ghent said every bit and dollar of the process, from equipment to procedure, needed to be a donation.

The $40,000 equipment was donated by Advanced Bionics, the procedure was performed by Dr. Disher at Lutheran Hospital, and the work with Jenri’s new hearing device started Monday with Dr. Tina Sheehan of Focus Audiology and Hearing Services.

The cochlear implant was activated, and Jenri could hear.

The first thing everyone wanted Jenri to hear was the sound of his family. Skype was set up to make that happen, because his family was still in Guatemala.

When he heard his family for the first time, Jenri waved continuously at the camera. His tears of missing his family were matched by his family’s tears of joy.

Dr. Sheehan continued her tests of the implant by trying to get Jenri to react to the noise of her hand smacking the table, and it worked.

Jenri made sure everyone in the room knew her noise was not very pleasant.

“When I would tap on the desk, he would look,” Dr. Sheehan said. “I tapped again, and he looked. I tapped a third time and he said, no! His reactions to the noises are an excellent sign that things are working.”

Jenri has at least several more months in America as he works on his speech and learns to understand what he hears.

The journey may not be over, but Erin Van Oordt couldn’t be happier with where it was Monday.

With tears in her eyes, she said, “I had a flashback to the first time I met him, when he couldn’t hear me, and he could this time. Everything we’ve done in the past three years came flooding back. It was all worth it.”

If you would like to learn more about Ray Of Hope Medical Missions, click here to visit their website.

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