In her heart, Molly Russell knew something wasn’t right.
The hospital staff in Texas told her not to worry when her daughter, Tate, failed a newborn hearing screening. An audiologist passed Tate at a follow-up appointment in North Carolina – after three tries. At eighteen months, Tate didn’t seem to hit some of the developmental milestones one might expect.
So Molly took Tate to a specialist in Raleigh who confirmed Molly’s suspicions.
Tate had profound hearing loss.
“We were immediately sent to UNC,” says Molly. “And we’ve been at UNC now for 15 years.”
Tate and Molly met Pat Rousch, AuD, UNC’s Director of Pediatric Audiology, and began a comprehensive and aggressive program to address her hearing and her speech. Tate would have speech therapy sessions twice a week. Her hearing would be checked constantly and her hearing aids would be adjusted accordingly. “Tate has overcome one hurdle after another,” Molly says.
Over the years, Molly was laser-focused on supporting Tate. She wanted to make sure that as her speech and hearing improved, so did her confidence. Dr. Rousch and her team paid attention to every detail and every opportunity to improve.
“Pat Rousch is an amazing lady,” says Molly. “She is so good at what she does, she cares so much. She just really exhausts every effort to make sure Tate had everything perfect and great. You can just see the passion in what she does. She’s always the one saying ‘let’s try this,’ and she’s always up on new technology. I don’t know that we would have made it this far without her.”
When asked about Dr. Rousch, Tate simply says, “She is the best hearing doctor I could ever ask for.”
Today, Tate’s hearing and speech have improved dramatically. She’s even up for giving public speeches from time to time.
That gift for speaking out has proven useful – because while Tate was working hard on her own progress, she was also watching something else.
Tate was watching other kids with hearing loss.
She knew the devices that help her hear were expensive. She knew many people couldn’t afford them.
In her heart, Tate Russell knew something wasn’t right.
So Tate and Molly went to the North Carolina State Legislature, where Tate spoke publicly in favor of getting insurance to provide better coverage for children born with hearing loss.
Tate was ten years old at the time.
Tate’s passion for advocacy never stopped. She’s the founder of Sounds All Around, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about hearing loss and financial support for UNC Pediatric Audiology.
“Sounds All Around actually started as a club at my school where I just wanted to see if people would even be interested in learning about hearing loss and deafness,” says Tate. She gave a short speech at her school about the club and its cause. “About twenty people or so came out to hear me speak,” she estimates. “On the club signup day, over fifty-five people joined.”
The club’s initial success inspired Tate to take her advocacy to another level. She worked with her mom to organize a fundraising luncheon to support the program and the people that had helped her for so long. And when they asked Pat Rousch to speak at the luncheon, there was never any doubt she would say yes.
“When parents learn their newborn baby has hearing loss, they are often concerned that they will have to change the dreams they have for their child,” says Dr. Rousch. “Individuals like Tate Russell are evidence that the sky is the limit.”
In February, Sounds All Around presented a check for $10,000 to UNC Pediatric Audiology.
As Tate finishes high school, she is still deciding what she will do next. One thing is certain, however: Tate won’t shy away from a challenge.
For anyone still unsure of Tate’s grit, Molly recalls the time Tate decided she wanted to learn Mandarin. Molly knew this language was difficult for anyone, let alone a seventh-grader with hearing loss and difficulty with speech. So Molly and some doctors suggested she try a language that might be a little easier.
Today, Tate is a member of the National Chinese Honor Society.