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Hearing the sounds that matter

A father's dedication and gift honours the remarkable life of his son

May 7, 2014

Hearing the sounds that matter
Alison Clark, BHSc’11, MClSc’13, recipient of the inaugural Christopher Lennard Memorial Scholarship, is congratulated by donors Alison and William Lennard.

William Lennard remembers the first time his son Christopher spoke a word. It’s a milestone most parents recall, but for him, the moment was a long time in coming.

When Christopher was 18 months old, he was diagnosed as severely to profoundly deaf. He could hear high decibel sounds (jet plane or lawn mower noises) but not speech. “This news was hard to take,” says Lennard, who was living in Deep River, Ont., at the time. “I was grieving but I wanted to do everything I could as a father to help him.”

Every week for months, Lennard travelled to Ottawa to meet with an audiologist and learn therapy techniques for his son, who was fitted with powerful hearing aids.

Training to hear noises
At home, the determined father made the phone ring to draw Christopher’s attention to the sound. He covered his mouth when he talked, making Christopher strain to hear what he said. He spoke clearly and precisely (“no baby talk”), enunciating every syllable and talking in complete sentences.

“I worked with Christopher for hours every day,” he says with heartfelt emotion. “So it was incredible one day to hear him utter…‘apple’…”

No sweeter word has ever been heard by a father.

“My greatest achievement in life has been teaching my son to talk, giving him the confidence to communicate on his own,” says Lennard, who with his wife Alison has established the Christopher Lennard Memorial Scholarship through the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western.

Playing to belong
That confidence grew as the bright, happy child attended public school in a “regular” classroom. At 13, he joined the school basketball team. In 1991, after playing the first half of a game, he collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. He was placed on life support for five days, but then he died.

The words he learned were silenced, the joy he heard was deafened.

“It was so devastating, after seeing how much he achieved and wanted out of life,” says Lennard, a retired physics professor and researcher at Western. “His name, though, will live on.”

Giving to improve hearing
The scholarship named in his son’s honour recognizes a Health Sciences student who has excelled in pediatric audiology, speech and language disorders or aural rehabilitation. “The award supports those who will improve the lives of children who have trouble communicating,” he adds.

In November 2013, Alison Clark, BHSc’11, MClSc’13, received the inaugural award at Western’s fall convocation.

Assisting to help children
“I’m so humbled and appreciative to be the first recipient of this scholarship, especially since the award honours a remarkable boy and acknowledges the profession of pediatric audiology,” says Alison, who works at London Health Sciences Centre.

Receiving the scholarship reinforces her decision to study pediatric audiology at Communication Sciences and Disorders – which is a world leader in audiology assessment and rehabilitation, and a pioneer in technology to test and treat hearing loss in children.

“To know that the lives of children and families are affected by what I do is an incredible privilege,” says Alison, a registered audiologist. “One day, I hope I can have an impact on a child, just as Christopher experienced.”

To learn more about investing in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, contact Catherine Dorais-Plesko, Alumni and Development Officer with the Faculty of Health Sciences (519.661.2111, ext. 86510).

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Impact Western
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