DEL MAR — Del Mar native Victoria Popov is a senior at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York who will graduate this spring with a major in biomedical sciences and a minor in psychology.
The 22-year-old will spend the next year earning her master’s degree and conducting research. She then plans to attend medical school to become an otolaryngologist, or ENT.
In her free time Popov serves as the treasurer for a premed student association that helps participants network.
While her are achievements are remarkable on their own, Popov’s accomplishments are all the more impressive because she has been bilaterally and profoundly deaf since birth, a condition that was not diagnosed until she was 18 months old.
“Back then there wasn’t a required hearing screening for babies,” she said. “My parents would stand behind me and clap or say my name. Sometimes I would respond. Sometimes I wouldn’t.
“The pediatrician said it was a phase,” she added. “But my parents finally took me in for a hearing test that confirmed that I had no residual hearing in both of my ears.”
About a year later Popov began using hearing aids, which amplified sound. But she was still unable to hear people talking or noises if they were behind her or in another room.
At 8 she received a cochlear implant in her left ear.
“One of the first things I noticed was I could hear the birds chirping,” Popov said. “That was something I never knew was a thing. Everything was really crisp and clear as well as amplified.”
When she was 17 and starting to drive she received an implant in her right ear.
“That gave me surround sound so I could locate where the sound was coming from,” she explained. “Together they help a lot. They’re amazing.
“Alone it’s harder to pick up certain things but I wouldn’t have done it differently,” she said. “I got one at a time to see how it worked. I’m glad we did it that way because I got used to the first one. And when I was older I had a better idea of what to expect.”
Hearing loss didn’t slow Popov when she was young. She has been an avid horse rider since she was 4. During high school she volunteered in the emergency room at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas.
“I’ve always had a passion for medicine,” she said. “I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon and later on an ENT surgeon.”
She was observing the operating room when the doctor who placed her second implant was performing the surgery on another person.
“He was doing someone else’s implant,” she said. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was very interesting and mind-boggling and inspiring. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an ENT.”
Popov said she knew going into the medical field would probably be more challenging for her because she might not be able to pick up certain information. But technology is helping her there, too.
During her undergraduate studies in New York, Popov shadowed a deaf doctor.
“I got to learn some of his tricks,” she said. “He has to use a special stethoscope that uses cardionic headphones that are blue-tooth wired. So that was a cool experience.”
In recognition of her achievements, Cochlear Limited recently awarded Popov a Graeme Clark scholarship, named for the professor who invented the multichannel cochlear implant.
The scholarship recognizes college students who are Cochlear Nucleus Implant recipients who have demonstrated leadership, humanity and solid academic achievements.
Popov will receive $2,000 annually for up to four years to help pay for medical school.
Popov has a simple message for parents and youngsters who are in similar situations.
“It’s going to be OK,” she said. “For kids like me, just keep going after your dreams. There are no limits and boundaries. Life works in funny ways so just enjoy the ride.”
She also has some advice for anyone who meets a deaf person.
“When I say that I’m deaf people assume right away that I won’t be able to speak,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to know there are new technologies that have provided a lot of different options.”