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Jessica Hill earns Graeme Clark Scholarship

MADISON – Jessica Hill of Madison is one of eight U.S. students to receive the Graeme Clark Scholarship from Cochlear Americas.

Cochlear Limited, a global leader in implantable hearing solutions, has presented the scholarships for the past 15 years to recognize students who are Cochlear Nucleus Implant recipients and have demonstrated leadership, humanity and a solid academic record.

Hill was born with severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss. Jessica’s parents are Steve and Andrea ‘Andi’ Hill.

Andi began to suspect Jessica had a hearing loss when she was four months old in 1994, long before Universal Newborn Hearing Screening was in routine newborn screening.

“Jessica’s hearing loss was diagnosed at eight months, but, due to the lack of access to a pediatric audiologist, her hearing loss was not correctly diagnosed until she was 21 months old,” Andi said. “We went to a specialized center in Pennsylvania because Alabama Institute for the Deaf & Blind didn’t tell us (about) resources at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.”

The Pennsylvania center connected the Hills with Children’s HEAR Center at Children’s Hospital. Their pediatrician connected them with Dr. Audie Woolley, director of the Cochlear Implant Program.

“Jessica received her first cochlear implant just shy of turning three. Her language and speech soared; she has never looked back,” Andi said. “Jessica is one of the most determined individuals you’ll meet. Her iron work ethic, positive attitude and faith were critical to catch up with hearing peers in elementary school.”

In 2012, Hill graduated with honors from Madison Academy. She next graduated cum laude from Samford University with a major in exercise science, a minor in psychology. Currently, she is pursuing a doctorate’s degree in physical therapy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The scholarship is named for Graeme Clark, foundation professor of Department of Otolaryngology at University of Melbourne. His pioneering work led to the first research implant of the ‘bionic ear’ in 1978. The Graeme Clark Scholarship value is $2,000 annually for up to four years.

Jessica’s younger siblings — Jared, 19, and Julianne, 16 — also were born with hearing loss and use cochlear implants to hear, listen and speak: Both Andi and Steve have a rare recessive form of hearing loss but no history of hearing loss in their families. “We didn’t know the etiology our children’s genetic hearing loss until after Julianne was born. Each child had a 25-percent chance of being born with hearing loss; the chance of two hearing parents having three children with hearing loss is less than two percent,” Andi said.

“It’s a journey none of us would have asked for, but one we would never trade,” Andi said.

For more information, visit cochlear.com/US/Scholarship.

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