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Family of toddler with nerve damage in his ears inspired to participate in Memorial Day Run

Jackie and Benjamin Toman and their children, Wesley and Lillian, will participate in the Memorial Day Run.

This article is written by Kim ​Carpenter, World-Herald correspondent. It was published May 4, 2015 at

When Jackie Toman was having difficulty understanding her then 2-year-old son Wesley, she and her husband, Benjamin, sensed something was wrong.

“I couldn’t understand him, and no one else could,” she said. “At times he wouldn’t even try and speak anymore. He would just point to get what he wanted.”

The Tomans believed Wesley had difficulty hearing and took him to Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha to meet with experts who work with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Tests indicated that his mom and dad were right. Wesley has nerve damage in both ears. He received two hearing aids.

In June 2014, the Tomans enrolled him in the preschool at the hospital’s Center for Childhood Deafness. The preschool provides educational programming for 3- to 5-year-olds who are deaf or hard of hearing.

His mom was surprised at how rapidly Wesley’s speech improved.

“One thing I noticed after he went to the center’s preschool was that he finally said ‘I love you,’ ” she said. “He had tried before, but this was clear as day. It was amazing.”

That’s why the Tomans won’t spend their Memorial Day morning getting ready for a barbecue or relaxing at home. Instead, they’ll be participating in the Boys Town National Research Hospital’s Memorial Day Run.

The annual event draws 5,000 walkers, runners and spectators. Held on the Boys Town campus, the event features a 1-mile and 5-mile run or walk, as well as a 400-meter Kids Fun Run. Music, food, giveaways, family-friendly entertainment, and demonstrations of dancing, karate and gymnastics also are part of the event.

Proceeds from the Memorial Day Run support early education, research and clinical programs at the hospital’s Center for Childhood Deafness.

Staff at the center often provide children with cochlear implants, which bypass the damaged inner ear and stimulate the auditory nerve; work with families in their homes; and offer a stimulating environment through the preschool program.

“We meet the children where they are and encourage their communication abilities in whatever ways work best,” said Mary Pat Moeller, the center’s director.

The Toman family said the preschool program was key to Wesley’s development.

“His teachers are amazing,” Jackie Toman said. “They helped by repetition and by making sure he uses his words. They come up with different ways to get him to participate without even knowing he’s practicing. He also meets with a speech pathologist three times a week. He’s exceeded his goals.”

Toman and her husband will walk with Wesley in the 1-mile portion of the upcoming Memorial Day Run to support the program that supported their family.

“What I love about Boys Town Hospital is that it’s given my family back our identity,” she said. “We are not the Toman family who has a hard-of-hearing child. We are just the Toman family.”