WADE MILLER, 17, is a leader at Dubbo College’s South Campus and has a bright future ahead of him, but without intervention from the Hear our Heart project, life could have been far different for him.
Suffering ongoing ear infections from his earliest days, Wade endured years of physical pain and suffering as well as falling further and further behind at school, unable to hear well enough to understand his teachers.
“When I was little I used to go to the doctor a lot and the doctor used to say I was going to be okay; the doctor would tell Dad just to clean my ears out with tap water and I got the wrong ear drops,” Wade told Dubbo Photo News.
“I had a lot of trouble in class, I struggled to hear other people talking.
“It was pretty hard because when in class there’s so much noise, and it’s very hard to learn when you can’t hear the teacher and they’re explaining things – the background noise made it hard,” Wade explained.
He also suffered teasing and bullying because he couldn’t understand much of what was happening. Then, during Year 4, after all those years of school, he came to the notice of Donna Rees and Rachel Mills and their Hear our Heart initiative.
This saw Wade diagnosed after years of ongoing issues, so he’s had to play catch-up for years and still struggles after such a poor start – but he’s over the moon he now understands the root of his health and learning problems.
Donna Rees, who with fellow Hearing Support teacher Rachel Mills founded the project, says things could have been far worse for Wade if he hadn’t been properly diagnosed.
“We first met Wade over at West Dubbo Public when he was in Year 4. He was quite sick with his ear infections and he was in hospital because of them. He was so sick he was on a drip because his whole body became infected with what started in his ears,” Mrs Rees said.
“Up to five kids a year in Australia still die from ear-related infections; the infection gets so chronic that it can actually get into the mastoid area and cause tumours. Wade was one of those kids that was very, very ill, but if these things are picked up they can be prevented.
“Wade’s mum and dad were devastated because they’d already been to the doctor so many times since he was a little baby, an infant, and were often told it’s alright, he’ll grow out of it, just wash his ears and use these drops, he’ll be fine, so as parents they thought they were doing the right thing,” she said.
Mrs Rees says Dr Ridha, a local Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, has been a huge support for the kids they’ve identified as needing intervention.
“Wade’s a community-raised child, so to speak – as well as his parents there’s a five-way partnership between the Hear our Heart bus project, the education department/private schools, the Hearing Support teachers, Australian Hearing and the ENT specialist,” Mrs Rees explained.
That’s a major reason Wade says he wants to give back to the community that has changed his life and, if not opened his eyes, certainly unplugged his ears.
“People helped me so I want to help them,” Wade said, explaining why he’s taken on a leadership role with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) and the Clontarf Academy.
“I want to help young people, and people who struggle, talk to them, help them with their work and stuff.
“Clontarf helps all the boys out, with the homework, assessments and in class,” he said.
He’s also embraced the fact that being able to hear, he’s been able to properly connect to and appreciate his Aboriginal heritage – being an oral language, when he couldn’t hear, it was like being blind and trying to read.
“If Rachel and Donna weren’t here, I don’t know where I’d be now,” Wade said.