A fight to be heard

HADDENHAM graduate Elizabeth Presnell has had her fashion designs snapped up by leading High Street chain, River Island. For Elizabeth the achievement is even more remarkable because she was born profoundly deaf. Lesley Innes met her. ELIZABETH Presnell

HADDENHAM graduate Elizabeth Presnell has had her fashion designs snapped up by leading High Street chain, River Island. For Elizabeth the achievement is even more remarkable because she was born profoundly deaf.

Lesley Innes met her.

ELIZABETH Presnell was a normal, lively, noisy baby who could scream at the top of her voice and throw a spectacular tantrum.

But, despite passing all the early hearing tests, Elizabeth was giving her parents Caroline and Rob cause for concern.

When she was 18 months old, hospital experts told the couple their daughter was 95 per cent deaf in both ears and probably wouldn't be able to communicate until at least the age of seven.

"We were devastated," said Caroline, from her home in Linden Way, Haddenham. "She had been a normal, healthy, bubbly baby and there was no question that anything was wrong. She could scream and shout and throw her cup across the room. "Now we were being told she couldn't hear a thing and we probably wouldn't get any change of out her until she was seven. She had lost out on all the baby talk."

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Elizabeth had been born eight weeks premature after doctors discovered that her parents' incompatible blood groups had caused antibodies to build up in her mother which were slowly poisoning her white cells.

Despite being a good birth weight, Elizabeth had to spend three weeks in hospital while she underwent five blood exchanges which doctors believed damaged the nerves in her ears.

Once doctors discovered that Elizabeth was deaf her parents were advised to teach her sign language.

But Rob and Caroline were adamant that, as their child was growing up in a hearing world, she should be able to talk.

"It might sound selfish," said Caroline, "but I

didn't want to spend my life talking with my hands. I wanted someone who could talk to me. She could scream at me and make noises at me so why

couldn't she talk?"

Caroline began teaching her young daughter

simple words from a book and gradually Elizabeth's speech started to develop.

She was accepted for Haddenham village play school and eventually took her place with youngsters at the village's Robert Arkenstall School.

But by the age of 12 it was clear that, although Elizabeth was talking, she was struggling with her schooling.

Her parents were adamant their daughter should have the best opportunities for an education but were not happy with the provision in Cambridgeshire.

They fought through the courts to get funding for Elizabeth to attend Ovingdean Hall School for the Deaf in Brighton - and she never looked back.

Elizabeth was able to take the full curriculum of subjects and learnt to play cello and clarinet, touring in this country and abroad with the school orchestra.

Now, at 21, she has just graduated from the Essex-based Colchester School of Art and Design with an honours degree in design and textiles.

Elizabeth also beat stiff competition from thousands of young design students across the country to have her designs marketed by chain store, River Island.

A top and bag carrying Elizabeth's distinctive brightly coloured flower designs are on sale in shops across the country.

"I was fascinated by orchids and lilies," she said. "I knew they would look great on clothes. I thought it could by my style."

The company's managing director, Richard Bradbury, told her: "This is a brilliant design with a vibrant use of colour and will be an excellent seller in our shops."

Next week Elizabeth travels to London to spend a month in the River Island design academy as part of her prize and hopes it will be the first step towards her chosen career.

Elizabeth's designs are also on display in the Haddenham Gallery until the end of August.

Caroline said: "I want every child to have the opportunities that Elizabeth had. We wanted her to have all the opportunities hearing people had. But we had to fight hard for them.

"When we were told she was too young for the latest modern hearing aids, we refused to accept that. We were prepared to do whatever it took to get her what she needed."

Elizabeth said: "If I had a deaf child I would bring him up like mum brought me up."

Contact the National Deaf Children's Society on 0808 800 8880 or by email at helpline@ndcs.org.uk. Visit its website at www.ndcs.org.uk

# There are nine million hard of hearing people in the UK - that is one in seven of the population.

# About 698,000 of these people are severely or profoundly deaf.

# There are 20,000 children under 16 who are moderately or profoundly deaf and 12,000 of these have been deaf since birth.

# About one in every 1,000 children is deaf at three years old and two in every 1,000 between nine and 16.

# Sign language is used as a means of communication by 50,000 deaf people in the UK.

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