Van Halen’s thumping, energetic anthem Panama is 10-year-old Campbell Labonte’s cue that it’s time to practise throwing a baseball.
Dad Bert came up with the clever piece of intervention for his son, who is deafblind. Like a major-leaguer’s motivational walk-up song, Panama pumps up hard rock-loving Campbell as he gets ready to be the ambassador for deafblind awareness when he throws out the first pitch at the Toronto Blue Jays game on June 18 at Rogers Centre.
“Every time Bert and Campbell practice with the ball they play the song. Campbell smiles and loves that song,” said Joanna, Campbell’s mom.
“We’re parents of a boy that communicates differently than others,” Joanna continued. “That’s how we do things. We find things that he likes and try to motivate him with that.”
The family from Embrun near Ottawa is excited about the opportunity to be part of the Jays first pitch for National Deafblind Awareness Month.
“Deafblindness is not a common word in people’s vocabulary. We face that every day. We’re constantly trying to educate people about its uniqueness and how Campbell will communicate with these challenges,” Joanna said.
Campbell communicates with his hands.
“Campbell’s world ends at the edge of his fingertips,” Bert said.
“That’s a real eye-opener for people, pardon the pun, because they recognize then how disorienting that can be if the world is ending at the tips of your fingertips,” Joanna added.
Campbell is deafblind as a result of being born premature at only 24.5 weeks. He also has cerebral palsy, Stage 3 kidney disease and cannot walk or speak. He’s endured dozens of surgeries, including five to try to save his eyes before he was four months old. At age five months, he was diagnosed deaf. He is able to hear after an operation for a cochlear implant at age two.
The Labontes describe Campbell as vibrant, expressive, happy and full of joy, with a smile that’s contagious.
“He loves excitement and exploring new activities,” Bert said.
Campbell is a thrill seeker, Joanna said. He loves to go for motorcycle rides with his dad, who had a customized sidecar built for his son with support from the Make-A-Wish foundation.
The need for speed extends to the baseball field, too. Campbell has played Miracle League baseball in Ottawa since 2015. The games are played on a fully accessible baseball diamond with expanded dugouts and a non-slip rubberized surface.
Campbell loves zooming around the bases in his wheelchair pushed by a volunteer.
Each player is paired with a volunteer. The Labontes say it’s nice because it allows them to watch and enjoy Campbell’s participation. They appreciate the social component for themselves and Campbell, who gets to interact with his fellow players on the field.
Pierre Beaudin, a consultant on deafblindness with provincial demonstration school Centre Jules-Leger in Ottawa, taught the volunteers how to work with Campbell. They did things like run the bases and tried to hit under deafblind simulation.
The volunteers apply what they learned. For example, it’s important for Campbell to feel the bat to know that it will be his turn to hit. On the bases, they tap his wheelchair to signal it’s time to turn left, Joanna said.
Bert employs a similar approach with Campbell when they practise throwing for the first pitch, starting with the Panama song cue.
“He reacts to it every single time at the same points. He starts to smile and gets a little bit excited,” Bert said.
Next, it’s gripping the baseball and practising the throwing motion.
“That’s repeated every day. Every day we talk to him about the throw, every day we show him the baseball, every day he gets to feel the ball and understand what’s coming,” Joanna said.
The Labontes are confident the first pitch experience will be a thrill for Campbell and a memory to last a lifetime.
“This is the right time for Campbell be part of something so big, to be a part of bringing awareness to deafblindness,” Joanna said.
We at Sensity appreciate the opportunity and support provided by the Toronto Blue Jays. This is the ninth year that Sensity Deafblind and Sensory Support Network of Canada (Sensity) has participated in the first pitch to mark National Deafblind Awareness Month.
We’ll have more than 130 people at the game to cheer on Campbell.