Freitag, 9. Mai 2014

Man to become first deaf medical school graduate in West Virginia


A Virginia native will make history this weekend. He is about to become the first deaf person to graduate from medical school in West Virginia.

After months passed when Mark Leekoff was born, his family noticed something unusual.

“At the age of 17 months, my grandparents were cooking and they accidentally banged some pots and they realized I wasn't looking at them,” Leekoff said.

That is because he was deaf. He was among the first children in the United States to get cochlear implants. It was part of a National Institutes of Health study.

He made headlines back then because the implants were not even approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in children.

At first, it was jarring.

“I was screaming,” said Leekoff. “I was like, 'There's so much noise!’”

He said it sounded like static.

25 years later, that little boy graduates from the West Virginia University School of Medicine this weekend.

“I am a product of the best of medicine and I feel like I can contribute that back to the community,” he said.

It has been a long road. After the implants, he had to learn to talk. His parents persisted, even in places like the grocery store.

“Taking me grocery shopping and having me point on what each food was,” Leekoff recalled. “I feel that really helped my language development.”

His vocabulary expanded.

He graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County. He got his undergraduate degree from Tufts University in Boston. Then he got a master's degree in public health from Drexel University and then went on to West Virginia University.

“I've always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was young,” he said.

He will become a neurologist, in part, because his grandparents suffered from dementia.

He uses a special stethoscope that dramatically amplifies sound.

“Everybody has preconceived notions,” Leekoff said. “I'm an ambassador for the deaf community and myself. Through medical school, I have educated people about my hearing loss and everybody's embraced that.”

In a few weeks, he will begin his residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“Even though it's considered a disability, I take the ‘dis’ away from it to make it an ability,” he said.

As for graduation, he said, “It'll be very exciting. It hasn't hit me yet, but I'm sure it'll hit me that I'm going to be a doctor.”

Indeed, it is a very good thing to "hear.”

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