Up From The Ashes

Posted: January 30, 2013

Pheonix Biller designed and conquered an obstacle course as part of a Jan. 28 occupational therapy session in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Aimee George)
During a Jan. 28 occupational therapy session, Biller (left), of Fulks Run, makes a snack with his therapist, Cindy Colwell, of the James Madison University OT Clinical Education Services Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services. She says Biller “is a fun and energy-filled 10-year-old, ready to learn different skills which will enhance his ... everyday routine.” (Photo by Aimee George)

“P-H-O-E-N-I-X A-L-L-E-N...” the 10-year-old spells, his hands keeping pace with the letters.

“... and! B-I-L-L-E-R.”

Phoenix is quick to run up to a new friend with a hug and introductions to his family. “This, is my mommy,” he states, proudly introducing his stepmother, Viola Fulk. “Over there is Daddy,” he points toward Billy Fulk.

“Billy used to say, ‘Do you think he’ll ever talk?’ ” recalls grandmother Virgie Fulk, thinking of  Phoenix’s earliest days. “I’d say, ‘Give him time.’ ”

Now, it seems Phoenix can’t be silenced.

Community Concert

Weighing only one pound, nine ounces at birth, Phoenix was born severely premature.

When he was released from the hospital at four months old, his tiny ears were fitted with his first set of analog hearing aids — helping him hear despite the essential hairs in his ears being underdeveloped.

The fragile newborn grew into a precocious preschooler, and by age four had broken his “special ears” more times than the family could count.

While they went to the manufacturer for repairs, Phoenix was stranded in silence for weeks at a time.

When friends and neighbors heard of the boy’s struggle, they didn’t let a March snowstorm stop them from pulling together to raise funds for new, improved hearing aids.

The community threw a concert, raising $9,600 for his current set — a digital pair that rarely need repairs, and allow him a wider range of hearing.

With the progress he’s made, the Fulks are ready to say “thank you” to the community that made Phoenix’s speech, behavior and physical progress possible.

“We want [the community] to know how much he’s gained by them,” says Virgie.

“There is so much negativity in the world, that I wanted everybody to know there are good things,” says Viola. “When a community comes together for the benefit of a younger generation ... they provided this for him.”

“This,” they mean, is a set of simple joys: carrying on a conversation about hiking, catching up with his friends in the supermarket, hearing his mother call him inside for dinner or when his curiosity has led him on an adventure.

“He’s very independent,” Viola says, half laughing. There have been scary moments, like when he’s wandered from Grandma’s house up the hill to cattle fields and creeks — calling for a boy who could be lost in the icy creek, or simply doesn’t have his hearing aids turned on.

In May, they’ll visit a specialist — doctors visits are his favorite, although he has a lot of “favorites” — to find out if permanent cochlear implants are an option.

“It’s going to be a very big decision, to know how he’s going to adjust to it,” says Viola. Music in the car or the telephone ringing have taken long enough to adapt to his sensitive “special ears.”

“What do you hear outside?” she asks him, leaning in to tickle his belly. “I, personally, each and every day take for granted little sounds, birds, the slamming of a door, the beeping of an alarm clock ... ”

“Wind!” Phoenix replies, waving his hands to and fro. “And birds, and rain ... and snow.”

“Oh, you hear snow?” she exclaims. “What does snow sound like?”

His response is a sign, of fingers trickling down through the air.

Sounds he would never hear, without the gift of his “special ears.”

Contact Samantha Cole at 574-6274 or scole@dnronline.com

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