[nfbwatlk] FW: [Wcb-l] Sad news
lauren1 at catliness.com
Thu Jan 8 05:53:56 UTC 2009
My first husband clicked and I found it distracting and embarrassing. He
used a cane, too, and stopped the clicking when I asked him to. He still
got around fine.
We should honor the person who came up with the white cane like we've
honored Louis Braille.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Alco Canfield" <amcanfield at comcast.net>
To: <nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:12 PM
Subject: [nfbwatlk] FW: [Wcb-l] Sad news
From: Gaylen Floy <floydom at comcast.net>
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 9:17 AM
To: 'wcb' <wcb-l at wcbinfo.org>
Subject: [Wcb-l] Sad news
Do you remember the California kid who navigates using clicking sounds? This
article is from today's Sacramento Bee. -- Gaylen
Blind Elk Grove teen who 'sees' with sound looks at death without fear
By Cynthia Hubert
chubert at sacbee.com
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 07, 2009 | Page 1A
Time is growing short for the boy who "sees" with sound.
Ben Underwood, the blind teenager who has dazzled people all over the world
with his ability to navigate using a tongue-clicking skill called
echolocation, is getting weaker day by day.
The cancer that took his eyes when he was a toddler has returned with a
vengeance, invading his brain and his spinal cord. Ben's legs no longer are
strong enough to support him, and his mother must carry him up and down the
stairs of their Elk Grove home. The teenager who traveled the globe the past
two years giving inspirational speeches and impressing people with his
ability to get around in a world he cannot see, spends most of his time
these days in a hospital bed in the living room, sleeping, praying and
listening to music.
Ben is under the care of hospice nurses, and he understands what that means.
But he insists he is not afraid of dying, even at the tender age of 16. One
day soon, he told his mother, Aquanetta Gordon, he simply will go to sleep
and wake up in heaven.
"He is such a strong kid. He never complains," Gordon said on a recent day,
as Ben slept nearby under a fuzzy blue blanket. "I am the one who cries. The
idea of having to bury my baby? I'm not sure how to do this."
Ben's doctors said he could have weeks, or months, to live. But whenever the
end comes, he will have left a powerful imprint.
Since The Bee published his story in May 2006, Ben has been featured in
magazines, newspapers and television programs from Japan to Great Britain.
He gave an inspirational speech to some 10,000 people at a Christian
conference in Hawaii and has become an Internet sensation. He has chatted
with Oprah Winfrey and danced with Ellen DeGeneres on national TV. He has
become friends with the iconic musician Stevie Wonder, who celebrated his
16th birthday with him and slipped into town quietly again last week for a
"Ben is an extraordinary young man who has inspired literally millions of
people," said his doctor, Kaiser Permanente pediatric oncologist Kent Jolly.
"He has fought a heroic battle."
Blind since he was a toddler, when a cancer called retinoblastoma took both
of his eyes, Ben adapted remarkably well. He taught himself to reach places
safely by counting steps and by using his keen senses of hearing, smell and
touch. Gordon insisted that her son attend mainstream schools and be treated
no differently from his classmates. She encouraged him to take risks.
When he got older, Ben taught himself to identify objects by making clicking
noises with his tongue, creating sound waves that he uses to identify
objects and get around. The skill, called echolocation, is commonly seen in
bats and dolphins but rarely documented in humans.
Thanks to his spirit and his incredible navigational skills, Ben has been
able to take part in all of the rituals and activities of childhood and
He has attended mainstream schools, most recently Sheldon High, and has
refused to use a white cane identifying him as blind. He's played
basketball, practiced karate, skated and ridden a bike through his Elk Grove
neighborhood, clicking his tongue and listening for sound waves that tell
him whether he is facing a brick wall, a metal car or other obstacles. He's
learned to type 60 words per minute and text message his friends. He's
played video games by memorizing scenarios and identifying sounds that
characters make before they move or strike.
Jolly and Ben's pediatric ophthalmologist, James Ruben, said they have never
met anyone quite like him.
"It's extraordinary that Aquanetta has raised him without treating him as if
he was disabled, and Ben has risen to the challenge," Jolly said. "He's
never been allowed to cut corners or take it easy or feel sorry for
Ben's cancer was in check until 2007, when he developed a tumor in his sinus
cavity. Intensive chemotherapy, radiation treatments and experimental
measures have failed to cure it, Jolly said.
The teen continues to get radiation treatments that keep him more
comfortable, but the effects are temporary, said Jolly. Ben dislikes taking
pain medication, but gets some relief when his mother gently massages his
head and shoulders.
Her son is aware that his time is running out, Gordon said, and he accepts
his situation, though he has not talked much about it. "After the doctor
told us what was going on, I asked Ben, 'Are you afraid to die? Are you
scared? Do you need me to hold you?' " she said. He told her that he had no
fear, and that he looks forward to seeing her in heaven.
"He's totally at peace," Gordon said. "My strength comes from him."
In recent weeks, as Ben has become weaker, his many friends have been
spending long hours at his bedside. They rub his hands and feet, fluff his
pillows and play his choice of music on the stereo in the living room. Some
of his favorite tunes are songs from a gospel rap CD that he created. The
project is not quite finished. Maybe Stevie Wonder will take up the task,
"Ben has always been a kid I could rely on," said Gordon, who has four other
children, ages 13 and up. "Always responsible. Always taking care of
"I only get him for a moment. I won't get to see him get married or have a
family or go to college.
"But Ben's life wasn't just for me. It was to share with the world. Now Ben
is dying in a graceful way. That's part of his purpose, too."
Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082.
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