During a big moment in a softball game, Sandra Dee Foster can eliminate all sound with the flip of a switch.
Alone on the pitcher’s mound, one out away from victory, the East Meadow High School junior will often slide her hand to her right ear, and with the push of a button, the world goes silent. But before tossing a potentially game-deciding pitch, she’ll throw a meaningful glance at a familiar face in the dugout.
“A couple of times she just smiled at me, and I’m like, ‘I know what she just did,’” said Tom Foster, Sandra’s father and former coach. “And then it’s ‘Strike three, you’re out,’ we win the game.”
During those moments, Sandra, who pitches on the school’s varsity softball team, said she pays extra attention with her eyes. It’s something she’s been doing since she was in first grade, when she lost the ability to hear.
But Sandra, 16, who can now hear thanks to a cochlear implant in her right ear, doesn’t make any excuses. If anything, her disability has given her a work ethic that trumps the typical teenager. “She doesn’t give up,” said her mother, Denise. “She knows it’s harder for herself. But she’ll go give it that extra effort it needs, and then more.”
For a starting varsity pitcher with high grades to boot, that extra effort has clearly paid off. “I’m kind of shy,” Sandra said. “But I still do what I need to do.”
Sandra’s hearing began to deteriorate when she was 3. She was initially fitted with hearing aids, but they only helped for a while. “So by first grade, she lost all her hearing,” Denise recalled.
Ironically, Denise had lost most of her hearing in one ear as an adult, from nerve damage that resulted from a fireworks show. But tests showed that Sandra’s impairment was not genetic.
She still remembers her first day back at school at age 5, following her cochlear implant surgery. Her classmates excitedly surrounded her, she said, asking her where she had been. “And I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I can hear them really clearly,” she recounted with a smile. “They were so surprised to see me.”