Cassie Bryer's ear for languages is undiminished by her severe hearing impairment. She speaks six languages and is learning two more. The story of this feisty and successful language teacher reads much like a Hollywood script, which, in a sense, it is.
Dramatic entrances are part of the lore of the world-famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. For the better part of a century, the greatest movie stars have outdone each other at premieres at this landmark. But the most dramatic and shocking entrance of all was made by Cassie Bryer. She was born inside the theatre.
"I fell out of my mother in the middle of a John Wayne movie," she says. "My father had just left to buy popcorn. When he came back in, he was the father of a second daughter. He never let us forget, that he missed the ending of that movie."
The surprise appearance was two months early and Cassie weighed in at just four pounds. Perhaps because she was a premature baby, she was particularly susceptible to chronic ear infections for which treatment, in those days, was limited. Bryer and her doctors speculate that this led to her hearing problems later in life.
She grew up to be a linguist. But just one year into her career as a high school language teacher in Los Angeles, she lost most of her hearing.
She was 24 years old when her life changed. She suddenly heard the noise of a motor running and asked her room-mate what was wrong with the refrigerator.
"Little did I know that it was a case of tinnitus. The noise followed me wherever I went. I've had tinnitus ever since," she explains. "It was a tip-off that I had a hearing problem."
"When I was 16 and giggling in high school, never did I think this could happen to me", she says. But for 32 years now, Cassie Bryer has met the challenges from her hearing impairment head on. She is the only hearing impaired foreign language teacher among more than 40,000 high school teachers in the Los Angeles unified school district. The noise in her ears never goes away, but she has long since learned to ignore it. She has lost 74 percent of her hearing in her right ear and 60 percent in her left. For a language teacher, correct enunciation and a good hearing ability are crucial, but Bryer never missed a beat. She teaches a full schedule of French, Spanish and English as a foreign language, including honors classes. She is also fluent in Portuguese, Italian and Yiddish, speaks passable German, and has taught herself Farsi to be able to understand the parents of the Iranian children who comprise 15 % of the student population at her school, University High School in West Los Angeles.
"I received the best help available immediately for my hearing loss, and I coped out of necessity," she explains.
Cassie Bryer was referred to the leading hearing specialist in Southern California. There was never any question about whether or not she would wear hearing aids.
Thanks to her audiologist, Bryer developed the confidence to set her hair, so that it no longer covered her hearing aids. Her second audiologist has changed her life, yet again, fitting her with the newest state-of-the-art digital hearing aids.
"They are so small and comfortable, that I often forget I'm wearing them," Bryer says.
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