Dog called Wanda is lifeline hero for deaf Blackhall mum

The birth of her first child should have been the happiest time of her life.

Thursday, 22nd March 2018, 7:32 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd March 2018, 7:43 am
Sylvia and her hearing dog Wanda

But for single mum-of-two Sylvia McKenzie, 42, the period following the birth of Alex, now 19, started a heartbreaking and terrifying journey as she started to lose her hearing.

Now completely deaf, Sylvia credits her adorable hearing dog Wanda for turning her life around, and giving her hope again.

She said: “I noticed that I could not hear my son’s whimpers before him fully waking up and start crying at night to be fed, despite having his cot right next to my bed and me being a light sleeper.

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Sylvia and her hearing dog Wanda

“After I realised that I could not hear my son well, I became extremely stressed, scared and worried.

“Most nights, I could not sleep at all from the stress and worry. I kept checking up on him every few minutes. And during the day I would never let him out of my sight.

“After three months I had a nervous breakdown from the lack of sleep and stress. It was after that I went to my GP and explained the situation.”

Sylvia, who is originally from Lebanon and now lives in Blackhall, was diagnosed with Congenital Sensorineural ­Hearing Loss and her hearing deteriorated quickly and has been declining steadily since. By the age of 35 she was profoundly deaf.

Sylvia and her hearing dog Wanda

“It took me about three years after being diagnosed to admit to myself that I needed hearing aids; having a toddler and giving birth to my daughter was the main reason for that decision,” Sylvia said.

“Then it took me further 13 years after that to actually ask for help with my hearing loss.

She applied for a hearing dog, at the suggestion of her GP, a few years later. At the time she was suffering from severe depression, lack of confidence and social isolation.

In September 2017, she was matched with Wanda, a very affectionate and adorable two-year-old red Cocker Spaniel.

“Hearing Dogs for Deaf People – I consider them my life line,” she said. “They have been amazing with the whole process and readily answering my questions and providing me with any information I needed.

“The day I learned that I was matched with my Wanda, I was extremely emotional. I cried a lot that day. I was so happy, hopeful and relieved at the same time. Having Wanda was a dream come true.”

As well as worming her way into the hearts of Sylvia’s dog-loving children Alex and Leah, 16, she said Wanda’s role is not only to alert her to sounds she can no longer hear but she also considers her a wonderful companion and best friend.

“Wanda has filled my life with so much joy and happiness. I love her so much, she is my best friend who constantly and readily provides me with her love, comfort, guidance and support, I never dared dream I will ever have that.

“She has made my life richer and more enjoyable. Suddenly I had my confidence back especially in public places, I started enjoying socialising and interacting with people. She is such a wonderful and supporting companion and best friend!”

Edinburgh is the only place in Scotland where the charity has “puppy socialisers” who help train hearing dogs.

Puppy training instructor Elizabeth Henschel says; “We train Spaniels, Poodles or Labradors from eight weeks old to be life-changing hearing dogs. Our volunteers are absolutely essential to what we do as they don’t only provide a home for our pups but also socialise them and teach obedience.”

The charity’s Great British Dog Walk returns to Holyrood Park on Sunday where more than 150 dogs and 350 people are expected to turn up to take part in a 5km or 6.5km walk to raise money.