For the Likins family, the cost of seeing Molly play softball is priceless.
To watch the St. Clair High School junior swim: Priceless.
Power lifting? The family watched Molly set the Michigan High School Power Lifting Association record in the bench press in the 181-pound weight class last Saturday at Croswell-Lexington High School. She bench pressed 190 pounds.
“I tried 200, but I couldn’t lock it,’’ Molly said Sunday on her way to the batting cage, preparing for her role as utility player on the softball team. “I could get it off my chest, but I couldn’t press and explode like my dad (Bret) said. I guess I did what I could. I had to get it up at least one time.’’
Despite being born with a hearing defect, it’s one of the few things in life the 16-year-old wasn’t able to accomplish on the athletic field, weight room or the classroom. She’s an All-State swimmer, a record power lifter, a superior softball player and nearly a straight-A student.
Overcoming obstacles, even dealing with hearing loss at birth, hasn’t stopped her.
Her athletic achievements speak volumes. Her cochlear implants let her hear the applause.
A cochlear implant is a surgically-implanted electronic device that helps provide sound to people with severe hearing loss. This severe type of hearing loss is usually caused by damage or a defect in the inner ear.
“It’s a huge investment for the insurance company,’’ said Suzanne, her mother.
Because the family proved to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan along with Health Alliance Plan that Molly needed the implants out of necessity and not for cosmetic reasons, both health insurance companies approved the implants. Magnets were inserted on each side of Molly’s head with a total cost of about $300,000.
“Blue Cross said, ‘Yes, this is going to be great,’’ said Suzanne Likins. “The second set she had, HAP covered. We had to prove to the insurance companies that it was a medical necessity and we just weren’t doing this for cosmetic reasons. Thank God we had good insurance companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and the people at U-M fought for us all the way through.
“It would’ve been much harder for her to learn if it hadn’t been for the implants. She would’ve been separated out into an assigned class. The deaf world has a wonderful community, but we chose the implant because we didn’t want anything to stand in her way. Cochlear’s equipment is top-notched. She gets X-amount of free dollars every year so we can get things to keep up the maintenance. She was eventually able to get a behind-the-ear one and that made it so much better. She felt free. Now she wears the Nucleus 5 Sound Processor and the Nucleus 6 Sound Processor. The Nucleus 6 is more water-resistant. They’re made for swimmers.’’
For some unknown reason, Molly had just mild to moderate hearing at birth. By 3 years old, she had complete loss of hearing. That’s when Bret and Suzanne made the decision to try implants.
Suzanne said Sunday that Molly’s life wouldn’t be the same if it hadn’t been for the implants.
“I was about 3 years old,’’ said Molly. “I don’t really remember much because I was so young. It really did change my opportunities. Say if I didn’t do it, then I probably wouldn’t have as many opportunities as I would with it. I’m very grateful that I have it. I can live in a normal world with normal hearing. I’m happy that I have the cochlear implants. It’s a great thing to have and I would encourage others if they’re hard of hearing or have hearing loss I would encourage others to have it as well.
“Kids with hearing loss, they have a little bit of hearing (at birth) and lose it after a couple of months. It’s both ears. I just wear one because I’m not as comfortable as wearing one on my other side. I had this one (left ear) done later; in the eighth grade.’’
Said Suzanne: “She had her first set of hearing aids when she was 2 months old. Then we had to go through the process. When we went to U-M (Michigan); they said she would be a great candidate for it (implants). Doctor (Alexander) Arts is probably the best surgeon in the state and he did both ears. We had no issues with any of it. The hearing rehabilitation center in Ann Arbor has been great.’’
Molly has played softball since she was 4. She took up swimming when she was 6.
“Both my parents were athletic people,’’ Molly said.
Bret stands 6-foot-7 and played basketball in high school and football at Eastern Michigan. Suzanne played softball at Grand Valley. Molly’s younger brother Max is 13.
Heidi, Molly’s sister and an 18-year-old senior at St. Clair, has used her sister’s courage to blaze her own trail. She also power lifts and plays softball.
“She has inspired me to go into the field of audiology,’’ said Heidi,who will attend the College of Wooster in Ohio. “It amazes me how hard-working and dedicated she is. She does things that other normal-hearing people can’t do. She has had to work so hard for so many years to work through her deafness to be not only as good but better even than everybody else.’’
By choice Molly doesn’t use the implant to swim or catch in softball because the team uses hand signals in softball. She likes to swim in the serene quietness of the competition. She reads lips and swam in the Deaf World Championship without the aid of hearing. “It was pretty cool,’’ she said.
“We have high expectations of Molly and she often exceeds them,’’ said Suzanne. “She has worked so hard in school that they let her go from young fives to first-grade, so she skipped kindergarten. That’s pretty unheard of for kids with hearing loss. We don’t let her deafness be an excuse for anything. We hold her to the same standard we would Heidi or Max. Heidi is pretty awesome.’’
Molly will be 17 when she graduates.
She would like to be an architect and plans to get a degree in civil engineering and then get a master’s degree in architecture. While in college she hopes to play softball.
“I feel like I am an example to my younger cousins; they are 5, 3 and 2-year-olds,’’ said Molly. “They are always looking up to me. I don’t know about people or kids my age. I hope I do in some way, shape or form.’’