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Kentucky Derby Winner Big Brown and Cochlear Implants

Posted Oct 17 2008 9:00pm

They call the Kentucky Derby the "most exciting two minutes in sports". While it turned out to be an exciting race, with winner Big Brown dominating the field, the excitement peaked when I noticed winning jockey Kent Desormeaux's son Jake after his father had just crossed the finish line. Jake is deaf, and wears bilateral cochlear implants.

At first I was unsure of what I had just seen. I thought I saw a child with cochlear implants on my TV screen, but because you don't see that too often (or ever), it took me a second look to be sure. It was so great to see another child like Drew out there in the world!

The announcer for the broadcast said something like "and there is son Jake, with those implants that allow him to hear the roar of the crowd". I thought it was a touching comment, and I think that will help the public become more aware of what cochlear implants are.

This article, from April of 2001, describes Jake's diagnosis and initial CI surgery. Another, earlier article describes his family's first thoughts and concerns about Jake's future.

As much as anything about the Kentucky Derby, Kent Desormeaux says, he enjoys the sounds. The weighty rattle of the starting gate as the doors slam shut behind the last horse to line up. The gathering roar of the crowd in the moment before the race begins.

The frenzied roar of the crowd as he rides a winner down the long Churchill Downs stretch, something he has done twice now, sounds pretty sweet, too.

Desormeaux and his wife, Sonia, got some bad news a couple of weeks ago. Their younger son, 14-month-old Jake, may never experience the delight of those sounds or any others.

Tests confirmed that Jake was born deaf. It's an affliction to which the jockey can relate, having lost the hearing in his right ear in a December 1992 racing accident at Hollywood Park.

``It's depressing to think your child is going to grow up without being able to hear music,'' Desormeaux said. Like ``My Old Kentucky Home''?

His family's tragedy put Desormeaux, 30, in a different mood as he approached Saturday's Derby, in which he rode the favored Fusaichi Pegasus to a convincing victory.

Thankfully, Jake's surgeries went well, and he was able to hear "My Old Kentucky Home" and the roar of the crowd as his father crossed the finish line on 2008 Kentucky Derby Champion Big Brown.

If Jake is the first person you've seen with a cochlear implant, and you came here to learn more, please leave a comment!

***Note: After searching for the NBC pre-race coverage (video here) we understand that young Jake was recently diagnosed with Usher's Syndrome (Usher Syndrome). Unfortunately, this means that Jake may experience vision impairment and possible difficulty with balance in a progressive fashion. Let us all pray that Jake be affected by this as little as possible.***

*** Here is the NBC Broadcast showing Jake at 2:48: ***
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