Inspired to help others

Posted on May 03, 2018

Lene Theunissen has had hearing loss for the last 21 years after contracting scarlet fever as a toddler.  She spent her life surrounded by a team of allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, audiologists and speech therapists. This inspired her to study to become an audiologist so that she could make a difference in the lives of people who have similar challenges to her. 

Lene says, “Audiology is the one profession in which my disability was a blessing. The University of Pretoria gave me the chance to turn my weakness into a strength. I am committed to doing better and being able to help persons with hearing loss and deafness through my own research. I am enrolled for a master’s degree which I am doing full time while waitressing on the weekends. I am determined to do it all and have a full life”.

Despite her hearing loss, Lene attended a mainstream school and lip reads to help her along. She credits her schooling/and her parents with helping to build her into who she is and making her adaptable to challenges. Surprisingly, Lene did not find listening to lecturers in class the most challenging aspect of her university experience, “Practicals were the most challenging, because South Africa is so diverse, the language barrier is already problematic for any student, but with my hearing loss it proved to be a bit daunting. By learning to cope with and understand the diversity of cultures and especially different accents, my confidence has grown immensely. Even though my hearing loss will always remain a challenge, UP has changed my life in teaching me how to overcome these barriers with the necessary tools and skills. As a result my confidence only improved with time, even though my hearing loss will always remain a challenge in these situations”.

Lene’s message to other students is to remember that, “No one can tell you what you can and cannot do, the only person stopping you is you. I am a girl with hearing loss who graduated with a degree in audiology, don't tell me it can't be done! Know where your strength comes from and never give up.”

“I have overcome serious challenges which I will have for life, but I studied hard and have achieved a degree to help others understand their disability and to be able excel despite it too. I want to provide hope to parents with children who are newly diagnosed by being an example of what can be possible for their children who have hearing loss or are deaf. I can empathise with my patients on a different level compared to other audiologists because I am just like my patients. I understand what they are going through”.

As Lene walked on stage at the Hillcrest Campus' Rembrandt Hall to have her degree conferred on her by the Faculty of Humanities, she thought of some of the people who made an impact on her life while studying at UP. She says she will always remember Dr Lidia Pottas to whom she is grateful for her emotional support and being Lene’s shoulder to cry on during her studies, “I  think a lot of people focus so much on the academic factors in a degree and how to get results, but Dr Pottas has a way of anchoring emotional stability, she provided much needed support through my toughest times on campus and throughout my degree.  I will also always be thankful for Mrs. Refiloe Maloa, who provided much needed tough love and always pushing me to be more and give more of myself. She has an incredible knack for mentorship and encouragement. She is such a blessing. Kgomotso Modise and Daisy Matsei are support service staff in the department and they helped me through the toughest and best of days, their continuous support meant the world to me”.

Lene says, “I don’t think I chose UP as much as UP chose me to fulfil my calling in life. My life will forever be richer because of the whole experience of being here!”

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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