So often, inspiration is drawn from adversity. In the case of Chris and Phoebe Burnham, whose world was turned upside down when their daughter Vallis was diagnosed with severe, permanent hearing loss, it was Vallis herself who provided the inspiration.
Over a matter of weeks, the Burnham family managed to raise a significant amount of money for Loud Shirt Day, a fundraiser for Telethon Speech & Hearing, one of the organisations that has been providing valuable assistance to Vallis and her family.
“We started out with a target of $5,000, but the total we raised through our e-commerce business is $7,695. We cannot thank everyone enough for their generous donations,” explained Phoebe Burnham, Vallis’ mother and a director of Will and Wind.
Based in Exmouth, Will and Wind produces bespoke travel towels that are sustainably made from recycled plastic.
“We convert post-consumer plastic into light weight, quick-dry, sand-free travel towels that showcase photographs of iconic Aussie destinations and sea life,” Burnham explained.
“My husband and I had discussed the idea of making shirts for Loud Shirt Day and donating all profits to the fundraiser. The only question was, ‘What kind of shirts should we produce?’
“So, we sat down to think about our daughter Valli. She’s loud, she’s eccentric, she’s colourful and she loves the ocean, specifically Humpback Whales and Squid.”
The Burnhams set about applying their artistic minds to the designs and, once printed, they started marketing the shirts on social media. The response was immediate and a little overwhelming, with almost $5 000 raised in the first 24 hours.
“We had so much fun designing these shirts and think they represent Valli so well,” said Burnham. “We hope that these shirts become a staple piece that are worn often and become a talking point amongst people to raise awareness and support for kids living with hearing loss.”
Vallis is the Burnham’s connection to Telethon Speech & Hearing, as she is part of Chatterbox – TSH’s early intervention program for children with hearing loss. While she was born with normal hearing, at the age of 15 months her parents noticed that she was no longer responding to their voices. At first, they suspected it may have been a result of water in the ear, but after numerous tests and specialist visits, Vallis was diagnosed with Bilateral Severe-Profound Sensorineural Hearing Loss.
“Chris and I will do everything we can to ensure our daughter has the best quality of life, with access to sound, speech and sign language to engage in the world around her,” said Burnham.
This includes weekly sessions in Telethon Speech & Hearing’s Auditory Verbal Therapy – although being so far away from Perth has presented its own difficulties.
“We live 1,250 kilometres away from Perth,” Burnham explained. “We travel by plane (three hours) or road (13 hours) to attend fortnightly appointments. The team at Perth Children’s Hospital, Hearing Australia and Telethon Speech & Hearing are all amazing at keeping each other in the loop and always try to align appointments to accommodate us.”
Modern technology allows for weekly AVT sessions to be conducted through virtual video calls, with face-to-face sessions whenever the family is in Perth.
“Telethon Speech & Hearing have been great ongoing support,” Burnham said. “Justine [Hawkins] is an amazing Auditory Verbal Therapist and is part of a hugely appreciated support system that is guiding our family through this process.”
Vallis has responded particularly well to her sessions.
“She has absolutely blown us away with her progression,” said Burnham. “From zero response and losing all words to now saying multiple words, stringing 2-3 words together and responding to sounds nearby, it has been amazing.”
The good news doesn’t end there, as Vallis is scheduled for cochlear implant surgery in a few weeks’ time.
The Burnhams are hoping that Vallis’ story will inspire others, like it has for them. “Valli’s journey has opened our eyes to all kids with hearing loss and the importance of obtaining the support they need as early as possible,” said Burnham.
“Loud Shirt Day is an opportunity to give back to the incredible team at Telethon Speech & Hearing, who not only support Vallis but our entire family and every other family who is navigating their way through this journey.
“Your donation is helping TSH continue to do what they do best, which is support children and families to speak, hear, connect and learn so that these kids can grow up to be whoever they want to be and live life unlimited by hearing loss.”
You can take a look at the range of loud shirts at https://willandwind.com.au/collections/apparel. Although currently sold out, they can be pre-ordered, and all funds raised will continue to go to Telethon Speech & Hearing.