UNC Health Care

Deaf former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum to discuss her cochlear implant experience at Asheboro conference Oct. 20

Oct. 13, 2003


Deaf former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum to discuss her cochlear implant experience at Asheboro conference Oct. 20


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Heather Whitestone McCallum had already led a life of remarkable achievement before she became a mother.

In 1994, she was crowned Miss America, the first woman with a disability to win that title. She had been profoundly deaf since she was 18 months old. However, a hearing aid enabled her to hear and speak well enough to not only win the pageant but also meet the demands of the grueling public speaking schedule that came with the role.

But after getting married and having two sons, she learned there were limits to the hearing aid that had served her so well.

“One day, my older son was outside on the back patio, and I was inside. I saw my husband going outside towards the patio, and I asked him what he was doing. He said our son was crying, he had fallen down, and I had no idea that anything had happened,” McCallum said.

That experience prompted McCallum to have cochlear implant surgery last August at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, which has further improved her hearing.

“Hearing my audiologist’s clapping hands when the implant was turned on brought unimaginable joy to my heart,” she said. “I’m looking forward to hearing all of the new sounds I will encounter with the help of both my cochlear implant and hearing aid and sharing my experience with other hearing-impaired individuals who could benefit from this miraculous technology.”

On Monday, Oct. 20, McCallum will talk about her cochlear implant experience at a conference held at the Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, N.C. The conference, titled “Keys to Language & Literacy,” is co-sponsored by the Carolina Children’s Communicative Disorders Program (CCCDP), which is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and the UNC Health Care System, and the North Carolina chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (A.G. Bell).


The conference is aimed at providing information about the development of spoken language in children who are deaf or hard of hearing. It is intended primarily for educators, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, but parents are welcome and encouraged to attend as well.

It will feature a presentation by three UNC faculty who work to provide cochlear implants to children who can benefit from them. Their presentation is titled “Cochlear Implantation: A Team’s Perspective,” and is scheduled for 1-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21. The presenters are Dr. Craig Buchman, an associate professor in the School of Medicine’s department of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery and chief of the division of otology/neurotology and skull base surgery; Dr. Carlton Zdanski, an assistant professor in the division of pediatric otolaryngology; and Carolyn Brown, CCCDP director. The UNC team has performed cochlear implant surgery on more than 400 children. Approximately 45 children a year have the surgery at UNC Hospitals.

“For many children who are deaf or hard of hearing, cochlear implants represent their best hope of obtaining a functional level of hearing,” Dr. Buchman said. “This conference will provide health care professionals and parents an opportunity to learn more about this exciting technology.”

The CCCDP is funded by the state of North Carolina and offers financial assistance to families for hearing aids, FM systems and cochlear implant technology. The CCCDP also runs the Center for Acquisition of Spoken Language Through Listening Enrichment (CASTLE), a privately funded center that works with the CCCDP to provide comprehensive services to children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The CCCDP and CASTLE programs have offices next to each other in the Woodcroft Professional Complex in Durham, N.C.

McCallum’s appearance at the conference is sponsored by Denver-based Cochlear Americas, the U.S. headquarters for Cochlear Limited and manufacturer of the Cochlear Nucleus® Contour(tm) implant, with which McCallum was implanted. Cochlear is a winner of the 2001 Medical Design Excellence Awards for its design of the Cochlear Nucleus® 24 Contour(tm) implant and the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation for the development and commercialization of the Cochlear Nucleus® 24 Multichannel Auditory Brainstem Implant.

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:  Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the conference.


McCallum’s talk is scheduled for 1 to 2 p.m., Monday, Oct. 20, at the Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, N.C. To request an interview with Heather Whitestone McCallum, please contact Amanda McLaren at (203) 762-8833 or amclaren@KLCpr.com. A downloadable photograph of McCallum and information about the cochlear implant she received is available at www.cochlearamericas.com/About/MissAmerica.asp.


Interviews are also available with UNC’s Dr. Craig Buchman, Dr. Carlton Zdanski and Carolyn Brown, CCCDP program director. To request an interview, please contact Stephanie Crayton-Robinson at (919) 966-2860 or scrayton@unch.unc