CARLSBAD — Only 16 years of age, Gianna Heaviland has already experienced the heartache of late hearing loss. She was born deaf in the left ear and by the sixth grade was growing hard of hearing in the right. The condition continued to deteriorate.Last year, much of her time as a freshman at La Costa Canyon High School was spent traveling from specialist to specialist trying to pinpoint the cause. Finally, she was diagnosed with endolymphatic hydrops, or Meniere’s disease, an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing.Gianna is among approximately 5,000 kids under the age of 18 in San Diego County who are deaf or hard of hearing, or HOH, according to Deaf Community Services.
“I was so ‘over’ everything and everyone around me, then I realized that I had grown from the situation and could help others,” she recalled. “By my sophomore year I took up ASL (American Sign Language) and I immediately fell in love with the language and deaf culture.”
She added, “I am in ASL 4 now and am very involved in the deaf community. It really changed the way I thought about myself.”
Gianna began attending Signs of Silence, a social group for the deaf founded by interpreter Roy Hensley. Feeling a need to bond with other teens who are deaf and HOH, she established a spin-off called PACE (Positive Alternatives through Challenge and Experience.)
PACE’s first meeting is scheduled at Gianna’s home at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25. Dinner from Pat & Oscar’s will be served.
“The purpose of the group is to help teens accept themselves into a deaf world instead of a hearing one in which many of us struggle,” she said. “At PACE, teens can share their experiences with their hearing loss and how they dealt with it, and make new friends along the way.” Teens will also discuss other relevant issues including bad choices, drugs, alcohol and relationships within the family and at school.
As PACE develops, Gianna says that activities will expand to include speakers and recreational activities such as roller skating, ice skating and trips to the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Beginning with the second meeting, the event will be opened to all teens who know ASL, even if they are not hearing impaired. Gianna reports that ASL is a popular subject among students at San Dieguito Academy, or SDA, where she transferred last fall. Surprisingly, she is the only student out of 18 in her ASL 4 class who is deaf or hearing impaired.
Gianna has also become a popular speaker. Last week she was invited to address the San Marcos Lions Club about her journey.
Today, Gianna has found her purpose in life. After graduation next year, she hopes to pursue a degree in deaf studies at Cal State Northridge. Her mother, Joanne Heaviland, thinks she would make a great counselor.
“Her father and I are very proud of her and how she has risen above something that has been a challenge in her life,” she said. “Because Gianna can relate to both worlds, the deaf world and the hearing world, she is a wonderful example of what it is to be challenged. Now it’s about making the best of it by helping others who are in the same boat.”
Gianna is also on SDA’s varsity tennis team, which she says offers its own challenges, because the fast action makes it almost impossible for her to read the lips of the tennis referee.
“That’s another issue,” she said, smiling. “Like when you’re playing and they shout ‘Out!’ Then again, ‘Out!’ ‘Out!’ ‘Out!’”
For more information about Gianna’s journey, visit her YouTube channel (Geegerz825). The video has received more than 56,700 hits to date.
To learn more about the deaf culture, Gianna recommends the book, “For Hearing People Only” by Matthew S. Moore and Linda Levitan.
To attend the first dinner meeting of PACE, text or call Gianna at (760) 710-7459 or visit Facebook.com/events/282246545173158.