Georgia Was Born Deaf

Georgia was born deaf, but she didn’t let that—or her mom’s death—dampen her dreams of becoming a star chef.

Laura Pedrick Photography

By Georgia Catanese, as told to Ramin Ganeshram

By the time I was 3 months old, my parents knew that I wasn’t like other kids. I looked the same and did the same baby things, but I was born profoundly deaf. However, I could have a procedure called cochlear-implant surgery where a surgeon would put small electronic devices inside my ear canals. I was so little that the idea of surgery was pretty scary for my parents, but they knew it was the only way for me to be able to hear. That first implant was just the beginning of my journey to the hearing world.

When I was 12, I received the newest, best cochlear implants on the market. Now, I hear sounds much more clearly, including sounds I had never noticed before: the humming from my computer, the house air-conditioner turning on, and airplanes and helicopters flying by.

I still don’t always hear what my friends are talking about, or understand some jokes. I usually listen to our favorite songs with the song lyrics in hand and practice until I can sing along with my friends. I also watch my favorite TV shows and movies at home with the closed caption turned on.

To tell you the truth, at times being able to turn my implants off has its advantages. I can shut them off to concentrate on my homework, or when I’m reading a book or trying to fall asleep. Sometimes I even shut them off if my dad is mad at me, so I don’t hear him yelling!

Throughout everything, my mom was my biggest advocate. She got me involved in so many activities that I never felt out of place. She was also my first cooking teacher. When I was little, she’d let me pour batter into a pan or a bowl. She taught me to bread chicken cutlets and make homemade mashed potatoes, my dad’s favorite food. When I was 9, our special mother-daughter cooking time came to an end, because my mom started to get sick. The doctors finally figured out what was wrong with her: She had stomach cancer. She passed away a month before my 10th birthday.

I did the only thing I could to take my mind off the pain of losing my mom: I focused on my recipes and cooking the dishes we made together. Cooking became my way of keeping memories of my mom alive. But the hard times weren’t going to end for my family anytime soon. Within a couple of months of losing my mom, my dad had a severe stroke that left him unable to use his left side.

Suddenly, my cooking wasn’t just for fun anymore. I decided to take over cooking for my dad. I became obsessed with making the kind of healthy dishes that could keep him well and prevent another stroke.

Now I’m totally focused on one day becoming a professional cook. I set up a Facebook page to share my recipes and had my own business cards made that say “Teen Chef G.” I had a blast handing them out at a fund-raiser for a local hospital last year, where I got to meet a bunch of celebrity chefs. I have all my recipes in binders, organized with color-coding—which I know will come in handy when I become the youngest chef on the Food Network! Having a goal keeps me focused and empowered. When I’m in the kitchen, I realize that there’s nothing I can’t do and nothing I can’t get through.

 

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