“Papa” was the first word to come out of Bilal’s mouth on that momentous day in 2018. Few thought the 11-year-old Afghan refugee would ever speak, but with a team of audiologists working through Pacific Hearing Connection in Menlo Park, California, advocating for him, he started uttering sounds.
His father cried, and the audiologists got emotional too, knowing what a confluence of unusual circumstances led to this miraculous moment for a boy who has suffered from severe hearing loss since he was a baby. Due to his lack of hearing, Bilal never went to school in Afghanistan, and communicated with his parents and three younger sisters by making up his own sign language.
The family resettled in Sacramento in 2017. The Pacific Hearing Connection team spent several hours testing Bilal to see if hearing aids would be a suitable solution and helped him get fitted for them. He returned a few weeks later wearing his new hearing aids, and after two more hours of free follow-up testing, evaluating, and coaxing, Bilal also said “mama,” “up,” and “bye.” His father expressed thanks for the breakthrough through his tears.