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Getting The Gift Of Hearing

The Early Show wraps up its "Week of Wishes" by making a dream come true for a mother of four in Idaho.

She wants her 16-year-old daughter to be able to do something that most other kids take for granted - hear.

Like most high school students, Breann Dunham has a jam-packed day: algebra, phys-ed, yearbook committee, and, of course, "social" studies.

But unlike her classmates, Breann has one other challenge. Her world is silent.

Her mother, Brenda Brooks, said, "Bree lost her hearing about age two-and-a-half from, our understanding now, ear infections. Because when she was born, she had one and we could never get rid of it. It was hard. It was devastating because she talked so well."

Together, Breann and her parents learned sign language. And later, when Breann's three little brothers were learning to talk, she taught them how to sign, too. As Breann's mother educated herself about deafness, she struggled to find the right school for her daughter.

"I realize that there's deaf schools out there and that education might come easier," Brenda said. "But for the rest of her life, she has to live in a hearing world."

So after calling public schools in 17 states, in search of one that would welcome a deaf child in a mainstream classroom, Breann's family moved to a tiny town in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains: Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where Breann is now a 10th-grader.

"She does everything that everybody else does, and she keeps up very well," her algebra teacher said. "I think she's a model student."

Her progress is due, in part, to her constant companion - sign-language interpreter, Jennifer Hurst.

About Breann, Hurst said, "She's expanded her vocabulary quite a bit. As far as math, she's becoming quite independent. She's pretty much all A's and B's."

Though she excels with numbers, Breann has some difficulty with reading comprehension.

With the help of Hurst, Breann said, "It's hard to understand World History and Science the most."

Even so, she finished last year on the honor roll, and she has big dreams.

"I want to be a pediatrician," Breann said.

Her mother said, "She's known what she wanted to do since she was 12 years old. She knows what it takes to get there, and she's willing to overcome anything."

That includes the enormous task of learning to speak a language that, for most of her life, she has not heard.

Friend Jessica Kelly said, ""We, like, sometimes will write down words, or we'll just sign."

As for the topics of their conversations, Breann signed, "A lot of different things. Cute boys," and smiled.

While Breann makes every effort to fit into the hearing world, she also invites others to embrace silence with a poem she calls, "My World." It reads, "I am no different than you are, I just talk with my hands. So please take the time to hear me. I have a lot to say. "

With her mother and father, Wade, and brothers Anthony, Aaron and Tylor, Breean visited The Early Show studio for what she thought was an on-air discussion of deaf children in the public school system. But on Friday, they were surprised.

Co-anchor Hannah Storm explained the real reason they were on the show. She said, "That's not why you're here. Because your lovely wife and your mother, Breann, wrote us this wonderful note. I want to read it. She said: 'Our daughter is going to be 16 on Jan. 30 and her only wish is to have a cochlear implant so she can hear. We have done the test and she's a perfect candidate for the surgery. Unfortunately, we cannot afford it. The surgery ranges from $25,000 to $75,000. Please help us make her wish come true.'"
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And they were introduced to Doug Lynch of Advanced Bionics Corp. "Breann, it's my privilege to give to you a very special birthday gift for your 16th birthday," Lynch said. "On behalf of the caring men and women of Advanced Bionics, we give to you 'The Gift of Hearing.' Advanced Bionics will cover all out-of-pocket costs associated with getting the high-resolution bionic ear system and for your cochlear implant surgery. Happy Birthday, Breann."

Asked what she would love to hear most, Briann, unable to hold back tears, signed, "I want to hear my friends talk and I want to hear music."

Ahead of Breann is a lot of work, said Lynch, who also lost his hearing in his 20s and now hears with the aid of a cochlear implant. He explained, "Breann has a road paved with opportunity in front of her. It's also one full of a lot of hard work. The cochlear implant is an amazing device, but it's also something that provides different levels of benefits to different people. And, Breann, we know that you're dedicated and you're going to work very hard on making the very most out of your cochlear implant and we wish you the very, very best."

Also tearful, her mother said, "It's wonderful. And we thank you. You don't know what she's gone through thinking she would never get this. So this is just awesome."

Breann was not the only one who got a gift. Spiderman showed up along with Michael McLane of Universal Studios to invite the whole family to its theme parks in Orlando, Fla.

McLane said, "You certainly have reason to celebrate today and we want to give you a place to celebrate. We know that your family has had some hard times and we want you to have the vacation of your life. So we're going to send you down to Universal Orlando resort, in Florida, your whole family together, to enjoy our two great theme parks."

The family is invited to the grand opening of "Revenge of the Mummy" (scheduled for May); a VIP tour of both Universal Orlando theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure; a stay at one of the on-site hotels; and roundtrip airfare.