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Hope College December 2013 : Page 10

Alumni Profile Hope for O n Monday, Sept. 23, seven-year-old Jenri Rivera of Guatemala heard his parents’ voices for the first time. It was shortly after the activation of his new cochlear implant, following successful surgery donated a few weeks previously by neurotologist Dr. Michael J. Disher ’81 of Indiana Ear in Fort Wayne, Ind. Still in the U.S. as part of his acclimation to the device, Jenri was connected with his parents back home via Skype. The landmark event culminated a journey that on one level began some three years earlier, when Jenri met Erin Van Oordt ’10 as she visited his village as a newly minted missionary nurse. In a larger sense, though, it started long before, with life-transforming experiences and bonds forged through Hope across decades, and even owes much to a high school football game in 1976. Jenri Erin herself has deep Hope roots. Her parents, Kevin Van Oordt ’84 and Julie Japinga ’85 Van Oordt of Jenison, Mich., met at the college, and her grandfather, Norm “Bunko” Japinga of Holland, Mich., was the equipment manager and drove the bus for Hope athletic teams for many years. Younger sister Kara and Kara’s husband Kelly Lepley both graduated this past May. Erin’s interest in Guatemala originated in childhood. Julie began leading summer mission trips to the Central American nation in 2000 through Paradise Bound Ministries, based in Hamilton, Mich. “I take a team every year in the summer,” said Julie, who during the school year teaches a combined first-/second-grade classroom at Allendale Christian School, and along with Erin has been caring for Jenri during his time in the U.S. “When the teams go down, we build houses. We also do medical clinics, and at the clinics present the Gospel.” Erin paid her first visit to Guatemala in 2006, and it made her future path clear. “I knew I wanted to go to college for nursing at that point,” she said. “I could help people and also do what I want to do for a career.” She returned to Guatemala for summer internships as a Hope student in both 2008 and 2009, and began full-time service with the missionary program the summer after graduation. Jenri’s community was the first that she visited through her new assignment, and she was initially struck by the relationship that didn’t form as the villagers began to open up to the missionary team. “Bit by bit, all the kids had come out of their shell and we played with them,” Erin said. Jenri, however, seemed aloof. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t he responding to me? My Spanish isn’t that bad,’” she said. She learned that he had been deaf since birth. Further, in his remote village, where there are many needs, there were no resources to help him learn so that he could grow into independence, and there was no opportunity for him to connect with a community of other hearing-impaired persons. “His village has been awesome to him, but they didn’t know where to go for help,” Erin said. “That’s why in seven years he never had any.” She examined his ears and consulted with a variety of medical experts and his family, and along the way an idea was born: to bring Jenri to the United States for a cochlear implant. The effort received a major boost when a mission team from Life Stream Church in Allendale visited Jenri’s community and returned committed to the cause, and many individuals contributed funds as well. “Team Jenri” organized efforts including a 5K race, t-shirt sales and placing change jars at local stores, raising thousands of dollars, but the procedure was still out of reach. In the meantime, Mike was paying Hope a visit in the winter of 2012 as the parent of a prospective student. erin Van Oordt ’10 examines Jenri while serving as a missionary nurse in guatemala. 10 News News From From Hope Hope College College

Hope for Jenri

On Monday, Sept. 23, seven-year-old Jenri Rivera of Guatemala heard his parents’ voices for the first time.<br /> <br /> It was shortly after the activation of his new cochlear implant, following successful surgery donated a few weeks previously by neurotologist Dr. Michael J. Disher ’81 of Indiana Ear in Fort Wayne, Ind. Still in the U.S. as part of his acclimation to the device, Jenri was connected with his parents back home via Skype.<br /> <br /> The landmark event culminated a journey that on one level began some three years earlier, when Jenri met Erin Van Oordt ’10 as she visited his village as a newly minted missionary nurse. In a larger sense, though, it started long before, with life-transforming experiences and bonds forged through Hope across decades, and even owes much to a high school football game in 1976.<br /> <br /> Erin herself has deep Hope roots. Her parents, Kevin Van Oordt ’84 and Julie Japinga ’85 Van Oordt of Jenison, Mich., met at the college, and her grandfather, Norm “Bunko” Japinga of Holland, Mich., was the equipment manager and drove the bus for Hope athletic teams for many years. Younger sister Kara and Kara’s husband Kelly Lepley both graduated this past May.<br /> <br /> Erin’s interest in Guatemala originated in childhood. Julie began leading summer mission trips to the Central American nation in 2000 through Paradise Bound Ministries, based in Hamilton, Mich.<br /> <br /> “I take a team every year in the summer,” said Julie, who during the school year teaches a combined first-/second-grade classroom at Allendale Christian School, and along with Erin has been caring for Jenri during his time in the U.S. “When the teams go down, we build houses. We also do medical clinics, and at the clinics present the Gospel.”<br /> <br /> Erin paid her first visit to Guatemala in 2006, and it made her future path clear.<br /> <br /> “I knew I wanted to go to college for nursing at that point,” she said. “I could help people and also do what I want to do for a career.”<br /> <br /> She returned to Guatemala for summer internships as a Hope student in both 2008 and 2009, and began full-time service with the missionary program the summer after graduation.<br /> <br /> Jenri’s community was the first that she visited through her new assignment, and she was initially struck by the relationship that didn’t form as the villagers began to open up to the missionary team.<br /> <br /> “Bit by bit, all the kids had come out of their shell and we played with them,” Erin said.<br /> <br /> Jenri, however, seemed aloof. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t he responding to me? My Spanish isn’t that bad,’” she said.<br /> <br /> She learned that he had been deaf since birth. Further, in his remote village, where there are many needs, there were no resources to help him learn so that he could grow into independence, and there was no opportunity for him to connect with a community of other hearing-impaired persons.<br /> <br /> “His village has been awesome to him, but they didn’t know where to go for help,” Erin said. “That’s why in seven years he never had any.”<br /> <br /> She examined his ears and consulted with a variety of medical experts and his family, and along the way an idea was born: to bring Jenri to the United States for a cochlear implant.<br /> <br /> The effort received a major boost when a mission team from Life Stream Church in Allendale visited Jenri’s community and returned committed to the cause, and many individuals contributed funds as well. “Team Jenri” organized efforts including a 5K race, t-shirt sales and placing change jars at local stores, raising thousands of dollars, but the procedure was still out of reach.<br /> <br /> In the meantime, Mike was paying Hope a visit in the winter of 2012 as the parent of a prospective student.<br /> <br /> “My daughter Bethany was interested in Hope College, and we sort of intentionally arranged our visit for the day of the Hope- Calvin basketball game,” he said. “I ended up sitting right behind Norm.”<br /> <br /> Mike had known both Bunko and Julie during his student days, when he was a starting linebacker on the football team. It was, in fact, Hope football that had first led Mike to the college from his hometown of Lakeview, Mich.<br /> <br /> Hope coach Ray Smith had been watching film of a fall 1976 high school game, scouting prospects, and was impressed by Mike and one of his teammates. He contacted Lakeview’s coach and invited the two players to campus for a visit.<br /> <br /> Mike hadn’t even been considering Hope, but that changed immediately when he arrived.<br /> <br /> “I was just amazed when I got there,” he said. “I was very impressed by Coach Smith, the beauty of the grounds and facilities, the quality of the academics and the sense of community on campus, not to mention the football program.”<br /> <br /> He majored in biology, and after graduation earned his medical degree at the University of Michigan Medical School. He returned to the university for his residency in otolaryngology and subsequently landed a fellowship there in otology and neurotology to further his training. It was the summer of 1992, when he was looking forward to being mentored by a fellow Hope alumnus: Dr. John Kemink ’71, who was a nationally known hearing specialist.<br /> <br /> Dr. Kemink was murdered by a patient on June 25, a week before the fellowship was to start, and so Mike missed the opportunity to train with him beyond residency, but he has continued to be an inspiration.<br /> <br /> “John Kemink had an outstanding career that was tragically cut short,” Mike said. “I made it my goal to try to carry on his work in some way.”<br /> <br /> He subsequently cared for some of Dr. Kemink’s patients, including Shirley, Bunko’s wife. Shirley and Julie were also at the Hope- Calvin game when Mike and Bethany visited, and the conversation naturally segued into Erin and Jenri.<br /> <br /> “We just started taking, and all of a sudden my mom said, ‘Erin works in Guatemala and knows a little boy who can’t hear,’” Julie recalled.<br /> <br /> Jenri’s situation touched Mike, who offered to perform the surgery at no cost, in keeping with his own commitment to charitable service. Further, his practice administrator, Sarah Silva, and the Fort Wayne non-profit Ray of Hope Medical Missions took the lead role in making additional arrangements. Ultimately, manufacturer Advanced Bionics donated the implant and related equipment, and Lutheran Hospital and other specialists in Fort Wayne donated their space and services as well.<br /> <br /> The months since the surgery and activation have focused on Jenri’s long-term success. He has had a number of follow-up visits with a specialist in Fort Wayne as well as with a speech therapist in West Michigan. His team has also been arranging additional speech therapy and related care in Guatemala, which the donations collected on his behalf will support.<br /> <br /> “It’s one thing to surgically implant the device, but it’s like a knee surgery or anything else: if you don’t do the rehabilitation, it’s not going to work,” Mike said.<br /> <br /> “He really impressed me in surgery with how well he handled it. He was very calm and collected and mature about it,” he said. “My thought is whatever tools we can give him, he’ll be able to use and make the most of them.”<br /> <br /> The goal is to have Jenri home by Christmas, especially to be reunited with his family but also so that he can begin hearing and learning his native Spanish full-time. Erin, who is now back in the U.S. and employed as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., will make the trip with him.<br /> <br /> The farewells will be difficult, but she also can’t imagine a better Christmas present than seeing Jenri home with his family, ready to begin a new future thanks to fellow alum Dr. Mike Disher ’81 and the many others who came together on Jenri’s behalf.<br /> <br /> “It leaves you really speechless,” Erin said. “It was a whirlwind, but we’re glad it happened. It’s such a blessing to have been a small part of his life.”

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