JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – About 12 years ago, Jack McConnell was one of the first infants to undergo the newly implemented national Universal Newborn Hearing Screening. He failed that first screening, but audiologists told his parents not to worry because the process had just started.
Then he failed the second screening.
At 4 weeks old, audiologists determined Jack had hearing loss, and at 6 weeks old, he was fitted for his first pair of hearing aids.
Now in the fifth grade at Mount Pisgah Christian School, McConnell, 12, plans to turn his greatest obstacle into a message of hope and courage.
Jack, his father, Matt McConnell, and a team of audiologists from Utah State University will administer free hearing tests, hearing aids and sports jerseys to children in Ghana, a country in western Africa.
“I want to tell them that nothing can hold them back,” Jack said. “I have hearing loss and I do the exact same things that my friends do.”
He has collected more than 120 hearing aids and 600 jerseys. And more donations come in every day, according to the McConnells.
“Asking for donations is hard,” said Tanya McConnell, Jack’s mother. “It’s one thing to ask for a used shirt that we all have in a closet. It’s another thing to ask people for something like some hearing aids that can cost as much as a used car.”
Tanya said she estimated the cost of an average pair of hearing aids between $4,000 and $6,000.
Bringing jerseys was Jack’s idea. He said that he wanted to bring the children jerseys “so they would feel cool and not forgotten.”
On another level, the jerseys help Jack tell his story. Despite his hearing loss, Jack plays lacrosse for the Jr. Cougars, a Chattahoochee High School feeder team. He hasn’t let the loss of hearing stop him.
“We have always told him hearing loss doesn’t hold you back,” said Tanya. “You can play sports. You can do anything in life.”
The McConnells first heard of the auditory mission trips through the Starkey Foundation. Jack wrote a letter to CEO William Austin saying he wanted to be a part of a mission trip. Austin called Jack from Uganda to talk about joining up.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Jack said. “He read my letter to the entire team. It was really cool.”
Jack’s trip started May 11 and lasted a week. They will spend most of their time in and around Accra, Ghana’s capital and largest city.
The Starkey Foundation was founded in 1984 with the premise “so the world may hear.” They are based in Minnesota and have sent teams to Europe, Central and South America, Africa and Asia, according to www.starkeyhearingfoundation.org.
Jack’s global mission has also brought the community together. Donations have come from local outfitters such as i9 Sports, Titan Sports and Newtown Recreation. Tanya said they also received jerseys from people out of state who connected through Jack’s Facebook page. Even the Atlanta Braves heard of Jack’s mission and sent some shirts.
Hearing aids have been given by the Georgia Lions Lighthouse, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Atlanta Speech School and Dr. Helena Solodar of Audiological Consultants of Atlanta —Jack’s personal audiologist.
“I wanted to collect stuff to give to the kids so they’d feel cool having a jersey on and knowing that they aren’t forgotten,” Jack said. “I can’t wait to see their faces.”