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Health and wellness

How ex-Hong Kong swimmer Robyn Lamsam learned to deal with her infant son’s deafness

The former Asian Games medallist says all her experience as an athlete gave her the tools to face Kyle’s medical condition

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 9:47pm

Only two months into motherhood, it all started to make sense for Hong Kong’s former star swimmer Robyn Lamsam.

She had been an elite athlete since childhood, bursting on to the scene as a 12-year-old. Her years of training, her sacrifices, her endurance and, most importantly, her mental strength was to serve a purpose beyond simply winning medals for Hong Kong at the Asian Games.

In the summer of 2016, Lamsam and her husband, Marc Convery, discovered that their two-month-old son, Kyle, was profoundly deaf in both ears.

She was devastated. Almost overnight, Lamsam’s life priorities had changed. But she’s hoping her experiences can help to raise awareness among parents, particularly in the area of early intervention for children who need urgent attention in a number of medical conditions.

“Kyle is my life’s greatest challenge. Everything I’ve done up until this point it’s like paving the way for my journey with him now,” said Lamsam, now 40 and a much sought-after speaker and MC.

“And it’s been really interesting because before I had him I sort of had a plan in mind for him but now he has taken us on this road, he’s picking his own path and we’re along for the ride.

“But we are lucky that we have so much love and care and concern from friends and family all over the world, which makes it easy for me to be strong and positive.

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“I was really, really sad for a few days and to be honest I’m still upset about it and still worried about him, it’s just natural.

“But I suppose that’s where my personality and, I don’t know, my swimming history traits kicked in. Because immediately it was action stations,” added Lamsam, who also pays tribute to her former coach Bill Sweetenham for infusing her with the life skills to help her deal with such tests.

With top doctors in Hong Kong and Australia working on his case, Kyle was fitted with hearing aids at two months old in order to stimulate the auditory nerve. At nine and a half months, he underwent an operation at the Union Hospital in Hong Kong to insert cochlear implants – the procedure performed by a professor from the Prince of Wales Hospital.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that performs the functions of the damaged inner ear, unlike a hearing aid that only amplifies sound. The cochlear implant actually sends signals to the brain.

“The great news is that we took him recently to Australia to do an assessment and we discovered that his speech, his expressive language and his overall understanding is at the level of an almost three-year-old,” said Lamsam.

“He only just turned two and he is a year in advance of his hearing peers and we are so, so proud of him and really, really thrilled and relieved as well.”

Lamsam and her husband do their best to live as normal a life as possible given Kyle’s condition. As with all parents forced to face such challenges, whatever life changes they have made are worth the effort.

“Of course there’s a bit of adapting every day and bit of a lifestyle change but it doesn’t bother us in any way,” said Lamsam, who won a silver and bronze for Hong Kong at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima. “It’s small things like making sure we have enough batteries when we go out, there’s a silicon cage for his cochlear implants, for his processors [which pick up sound signals from outside the ear] when we go swimming but generally it’s just life as usual.

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“He has amazing ball sense. I think maybe genetics have kicked in there for sure. He started kicking a ball and running before he could barely even walk.

“Now you have these bouncy things, the ball bounces up and his timing is so good he can hit it with a racket or baseball bat and it’s quite funny [to watch him]. It’s great for us, you know us, we’re a sports-mad family so it’s a lot of fun with him,” added Lamsam, whose brother Roy played cricket for Hong Kong.

Recently Viu TV broadcast a documentary on Lamsam and Kyle, which she hopes will provide inspiration to other families who face similar situations.

“One of the things I was hoping to achieve in the programme was to raise a little bit of awareness about the topic of deafness and other issues in Hong Kong,” said Lamsam.

“But also to remove the stigma of any challenges people face. Like for parents, sometimes when you discover ... everybody is dealt cards that they might not be so happy about. Maybe we don’t have control over the cards we are dealt but we definitely have control over how we choose to respond to challenges that are presented to us.

“Early intervention, for example, is absolutely crucial for children and I feel as a parent it is my responsibility to make sure that my child has the best opportunities in life. And early intervention is key.

“For Kyle it happened to be his hearing impairment but you hear of a lot of parents facing challenges such as autism and learning disabilities. And it seems like in Hong Kong they don’t want to face up to it. I don’t agree with that and I was hoping basically to tell them that they’re not alone.

“Everybody has their difficulties and their challenges that are presented but we all have to deal with them and it’s up to us how we choose to deal with them.”