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Bobsled: For Flowers, son's hearing is a victory
Seattle Times staff reporter
CESANA PARIOL, Italy — Vonetta Flowers will not remember Italy for all the reasons she remembers Salt Lake City. She won't remember it for becoming the first black athlete in Winter Olympics history to wear a gold medal around her neck. She won't remember it for the adoring crowds or the crush of media or even for the historical significance her triumph carried four years earlier.
She will remember it every time she speaks to her son Jorden. And every time he answers back.
"I feel like I already won the gold medal," Flowers said. "We thank God every day for bringing us to Italy."
Flowers always wanted children as much as she wanted medals, and a week after the closing ceremony in Salt Lake City, she was pregnant with twins.
Only they were born three months premature, weighing less than 3 pounds, wearing tiny little hospital wristbands that would fit around most fingers. That wasn't the end of it.
Jorden was born deaf.
What happened next — and what happened close to here — carved a place for Italy in the Flowers' hearts forever. Dr. Vittorio Colletti offered to implant a device that makes it possible for children born permanently deaf to hear, and offered to do it for free.
Doctors call it an "auditory brain-stem" transplant, and not only does it require brain surgery, but it normally costs $100,000 for the procedure and $25,000 for the device.
Colletti performed the surgery last Dec. 20 in Verona. He turned it on in late January, according to Flowers' husband, Johnny, who said the family will stay in Italy for appointments on March 1 and March 15. During each appointment, the volume of the device basically gets turned up.
Jorden already has started responding to barking dogs and squeaky toys. But the procedure will take time — Jorden is 3 years old, yet his hearing is at the level of a month-old baby.
The twins don't know life without their mother and her bobsled. They travel all over the world with Vonetta and Johnny, spending warmer races in the stands and colder races in the car.
Vonetta's driver, Jean Prahm, marvels at the way the Flowers family manages. There's Johnny, standing by his wife's side, allowing her to fulfill another dream. And Vonetta, fulfilling this one, and then looking immediately to the next.
She plans on driving a sled in 2010.
By then, Jorden should be hearing fine.
"It's very special, it really is," Johnny said. "A lot of people doubted that she was going to come back after winning a gold medal, after having twins. She could have easily rode off after the last Olympics, after her medal and just called it quits. This is what she's always dreamed about."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company