For one of our classes, our professor had us read an article about Dana Suskind. Dr. Suskind is the co-founder of the pediatric cochlear implant program at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital, bringing sound into the lives of children born deaf.
I am particularly vulnerable to stories about children, in any form. While the rest of the world runs around making grand gestures, children get hurt and very few of us do anything about it. Those who are in the trenches are driven by love, not for any glamor or glory that may come with it. I cannot think of anything that could be more rewarding than bringing a child’s potential into bloom. And Dana Suskind does that with her implants.
But Dr. Suskind does a whole lot more – she works in the world of holistic health care, where the connection between health and social determinants, the world that we explore in our clinic, is very real. Dr. Suskind’s research led her to the “30 million-word gap” – something that I was unaware of until I read the article. The 30 million-word gap shows that “by the age of 3, children of lower socioeconomic status will have heard about 30 million words less than their more affluent peers” – a gap that impacts everything in those children’s lives, from academic achievement to school preparedness to later success. And as we uncover more information about the social determinants of health, it becomes ever more apparent that life success is intricately connected to our health.
In response, Dr. Suskind has started the 30 Million Words Project, a program that addresses the gap through “parent-directed intervention.” The program “sends research assistants to the homes of at-risk children for 13 weeks and educates their parents about the importance of engaging their children in an ongoing dialogue – and, equally important, offers them the tools to do so.”
I find it remarkable that the connections to long-term health outcomes can be traced to such an absolutely basic idea – to how much a parent talks to his or her baby! And I find it equally remarkable that Dana Suskind has not confined her ethic of serving the most vulnerable among us to just her operating room, but has stepped into a world very different from one that she is used to, and is making a difference in real people’s lives in a way that a scalpel could not.
Sarmistha (Buri) Banerjee