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04/14/2021 08:30 AM

Stef Munzi-Logus Uses Art to Bring Awareness to Hearing Loss

As a lifelong artist, Stef Munzi-Logus is using her talents to write and illustrate a book inspired by her son and educate the public about his hearing loss. Photo courtesy of Stef Munzi-Logus

Stef Munzi-Logus has loved drawing and art for as long as she could remember. She has not only been able to channel her passion into her career—she’s a high school art teacher in Hartford—but is now using her talent to raise awareness for microtia and atresia, a hearing loss condition that affects her 13-month-old son Joseph.

Because Stef suffered from preeclampsia during her pregnancy, she developed problems with her blood pressure and after becoming very sick, she had to be induced a month before her baby was due. The induction wasn’t successful and resulted in an emergency c-section.

“It went really bad and we both almost died,” says Stef. “He had fluid in his lungs and had to go to the NICU.”

While Joseph recovered from his traumatic entrance into the world, Stef, her husband John, and the doctors, realized there were other issues to face. Joseph’s right ear wasn’t fully developed and his ear canal was closed off and his newborn hearing test showed profound hearing loss on his right side.

Joseph was born in the beginning of March and after spending two weeks in the NICU, he was discharged—just before COVID shutdowns began. Because of his hearing loss, Joseph needed several follow-up appointments, but due to the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy path.

“We left the NICU just as the craziness started, but we had to go back for appointments for his ears and hearing,” says Stef. “I had to fight hard to go get him a hearing aid. I learned a lot about his condition and if your muscles atrophy, if you don’t use it, it doesn’t work. I knew I had to get him a hearing aid quickly, but COVID slowed the process down.”

When Joseph was five months old, he was fitted with a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) that delivers sound vibrations to the inner ear by direct contact with the skull bones. Because the device looks similar to a headband and is not very common, people often ask Stef if Joseph is a girl.

“People ask questions and it might seem insensitive, but they just don’t know so I explain it’s a hearing aid,” says Stef. “I want to educate people on his type of hearing loss.”

In addition to sharing the information with those who ask about the device, Stef began drawing portraits of Joseph that include his BAHA device. She is hoping that by including his device in his portraits, he and others will see it as a natural part of him.

She has also reached out to others in the hearing loss community and found other parents who were happy to have a portrait of their child with special needs. She has drawn children with hearing aids as well as those with cerebral palsy. She also recently drew a memorial portrait of a boy who passed away from cancer.

Joseph was also the inspiration for another project for Stef. She recently wrote and illustrated a children’s book, Jojo’s Tiny Ear, and she is currently seeking a publisher. Though she had always dreamed of illustrating a book, she never dreamed that this is how it would’ve happened.

“I never thought I’d be doing it from this aspect,” says Stef. “It’s like a poem about acceptance and teaching people about hearing loss, especially his kind because it’s not very common.”

While raising a baby with special needs during a pandemic, drawing portraits of children with special needs, and writing and illustrating a book, Stef has continued her day job. She has been an art teacher at a high school in Hartford since 2014 and has been teaching remotely this year due to COVID, though she is getting ready to return to the classroom.

“It’s definitely been a challenge as teachers now have a lot of extra jobs on top of things we’ve already done, but I love working in a field I love,” says Stef. “The high school age is great because you can do more advanced projects and since I teach some AP classes, I get to help prepare kids for college and help create their portfolios.”

Prior to teaching in Hartford, Stef taught at Grove School, a private, co-educational, therapeutic boarding and day school for 11- to 18-year-olds in Madison. Because it was a boarding school, staff members not only teach students during the day, but manage a dorm at night. Stef also had her livery license so she transported students and ran a horseback riding club.

Because the position at Grove School is more of a “lifestyle” than a typical career, it required about 100 hours of work each week between the different aspects of the job. While it was a lot of work, working with the students there, Stef was inspired to get her master’s in special education through a program offered by her work.

Though Stef worked with students with special needs in the past and then studied special education, she notes that being the parent of a child with special needs has given her a new perspective. She has discovered many resources and works with Birth to Three through Zoom meetings as well as the American School for the Deaf.

“I was in that world and being on the other side gave me a new appreciation for what these parents have to go through,” says Stef. “You really have to be an advocate for your kid and fight for everything. It’s really hard.”

Even though Joseph has his hearing aid and Stef and John have secured a variety of services and resources for their family, there is still more to do. They are currently learning sign language and how to use it.

On the medical side, Stef continues to struggle with her blood pressure due to her pregnancy complications. There are also a variety of appointments for Joseph, including appointments with ear, nose, and throat specialists, as well as plastic surgeons in order to plan the possibility of reconstructing Joseph’s ear in the future.

“It’s my goal for him to feel that he doesn’t need the surgery. I want him to be confident and feel like he doesn’t need that and put on his hearing aid like it’s normal, but if he wants it, then we’ll be ready,” says Stef. “I want my son to feel like it’s not a big deal, maybe even like it’s a cool thing because a part of him and it’s something I wanted to bring more awareness to.”

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