GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) - In some ways, Holly Diggs is your typical teenager. She loves makeup, styling hair, fashion, clothes, cheerleading, babysitting, acting, gymnastics and dance. But in other aspects, you might call her “Super Teen.”
She’s had a stack of health hurdles to clear, but she has not let them change who she is or keep her from academic excellence.
The Gaston Christian School eighth-grader is full of life, with a sense of humor and an animated personality that can instantly brighten the days of those she encounters. It’s hard to believe that just six months ago Holly was starting to deal with her biggest challenge yet: losing all but 10 percent of her hearing.
At age 5, Holly was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2, a rare disorder that affects about one in 25,000 people, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
NF2 causes noncancerous tumors to develop on the nerves that transmit information from the inner ear to the brain, which can result in hearing loss and balance problems, the Mayo Clinic reports. Tumors may also form in other nerves throughout the body, like in Holly’s case.
Holly’s condition was unchanged until age 9, when she woke up deaf in one ear because of a tumor on the hearing nerve. Despite medicine, non-cancer chemotherapy and two brain surgeries, another tumor caused her to lose hearing in her other ear this past May. Holly continues to have some pain and regularly sees her doctors.
Julie, Holly’s mom, said the disease can be spontaneous or hereditary, although this is the first for the Diggs family, and every case is different. The tumor growth is tied to hormones, so as a person with NF2 get older, it’s possible their condition could improve, Holly said.
“There’s always hope that it will get even better,” she said.
Holly, who lives in Charlotte with her parents, Julie and Mark, said it’s been a rough adjustment, especially not being able to listen to music anymore and seeing friends distance themselves.
But when August rolled around, she was back at Gaston Christian for the new year. Julie said they decided it was best for Holly to return to the school she was comfortable with for the socialization and so she wouldn’t feel isolated.
An auditory brainstem implant, which amplifies the sound that Holly does hear, has proven to be an invaluable resource, Holly said. Although she knows the signing basics, she prefers to read lips and does not plan to learn sign language.
“People automatically think that deaf people communicate with sign language. So, when you’re a deaf person that doesn’t know sign language, it’s really weird to tell people, ‘You can talk to me. I don’t know sign language. Just talk to me like a regular person, just slowly.’ My lip-reading skills have definitely gotten better, but they do fail me sometimes,” Holly said. “I want to get myself used to going to school and being deaf.”
She’s continuing to excel in school despite this life change, recently earning all As and one B on her first-quarter report card.
“Every time I think of Holly Diggs, I am inspired,” said Dr. Marc Stout, Gaston Christian head of school. “Here is a young girl who has lost her hearing, has to deal with some significant physical challenges, and yet she still perseveres. She has maintained an A average in our rigorous program while having to learn how to read the lips of her teachers.”
Holly said she enjoys all subjects, but her favorites are literature and grammar. Recently, she’s tackled “The Diary of Anne Frank,” ”Bridge to Terabithia” and the “Divergent” series. She wants to be a veterinarian or a neo-natal nurse when she grows up.
“I love school. I love it so much,” Holly said. “I love to read and write and learn about other people who read and write. . I’m an English person.”
“The teachers, if it were not for their support, there’s no way we could have done this. They all love Holly. They put forth such an effort to help her. They really care,” Julie said.
Julie said the school staff has done anything they can to help her daughter and their family. Teachers print out their notes for Holly and offer one-on-one tutoring when she needs it.
“They help me with the schoolwork and the classwork, but they also ask me how I’m doing, and that helps me a lot because I know that I can talk to somebody about it,” Holly said.
Julie said that after she lost her job, she had trouble finding work that would allow her to take time off for Holly’s medical treatments or to go get her if she had a problem. But, Gaston Christian stepped in and hired Julie as the after-school coordinator. Although Holly’s not been able to participate in cheerleading because of a schedule conflict, the school offered her a special spot on the team that catered to her poor balance.
“She is an amazing young woman who readily shares her smile with everyone,” said Virginia Conover, Gaston Christian Middle School principal. “She provides a wonderful example for all of us as one who tries her best and never hesitates to successfully meet the challenges of living with a hearing loss in a hearing world.”
The Diggs’ church, Hope Community Church of Metrolina, has also been a constant source of support, and the circumstances have caused the family to become closer to God and each other, Julie said.
“Of course, I want my child to be healthy, but I would not trade her for anything. There’s a reason we’re going through this. It’s part of God’s plan, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. This has strengthened our family, the three of us, to the point we’re unshakable,” Julie said. “This is why we never complain; it’s because she is here right now.”
Information from: The Gaston Gazette, https://www.gastongazette.com
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