Pediatric cancer survivor bullied by classmates boosts confidence by making hearing aids fun, stylish

Audrey Brown, 9, has survived cancer, and is now finding a way to help other children.

"She was eight weeks early," Audrey’s mom, Ashley Brown said. "She and her twin spent 12 weeks, five days in the NICU."

Audrey was diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer when she was five months old.

"She went through five rounds of chemo, and then she got to ring the bell when she was 13 months old that she was cancer free," Ashley Brown said.

Audrey was diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer when she was five months old.

Audrey was diagnosed with stage-three liver cancer when she was five months old.

Brown says Audrey was on a great path for a while, until her health took a downward spiral.

The chemotherapy fought off the cancer, but left Audrey with neurological damage, a sensory disorder, GI issues and progressive hearing loss.

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"She beat cancer, but because of that cisplatin and that treatment that she had, the damage was done," Dr. Brittany Levin, a pediatric audiologist with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital said. "It can actually gradually decline still, so that’s something that she has to live with forever."

Pictured: Audrey Brown

Pictured: Audrey Brown 

At five years old, Audrey was fitted for hearing aids, but she wasn’t proud to show them off.

"They bullied me a lot in school," Audrey said.

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Brown says her daughter was bullied by children for her hearing aids, and didn’t want to wear them.

Pictured: Audrey Brown

Pictured: Audrey Brown 

"She would come home crying most days. She would come home saying, ‘I’m not going back to school,’" Brown said.

Dr. Levin says Audrey went to her regular appointments and explained the problem.

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"When she told me she was getting bullied at school, I said, ‘Well, you know what? Let’s make the hearing aids as colorful and fun,’" Dr. Levin said.

Dr. Levin says colorful hearing aids can be ordered and stickers put on them to make them more appealing to children.

Pictured: Audrey Brown

Pictured: Audrey Brown 

"I told her about going on Etsy Online, because some people have designed little attachments, little things to make it fun," Dr. Levin explained. "But those are primarily for infants. Little caps to get them to stay on, little headbands to keep them on. So, Audrey had the idea to make a little earring."

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Audrey couldn’t wear regular earrings because they interfered with her hearing aids.

"My idea was hearing aid charms because they really boosted up my self-confidence," Audrey said.

The charms clip onto the hearing aids and look like earrings.

"It makes me really happy because a lot of kids don’t have self-confidence, so I really want to boost up others’ self-confidence too," Audrey said. "Not just mine."

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Audrey started making different types of charms, from charms with bling, to butterflies, to musical charms.

Audrey Brown has made and donated more than 200 charms.

Audrey Brown has made and donated more than 200 charms.

"The thought of how crazy it can go from being bullied one day, to everybody’s asking you more about your hearing aids because they see something fancy on them," Brown shared. "To watch her build her own confidence, it was great."

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Audrey has donated almost 200 pairs of charms to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and other organizations.

"Sometimes, I wish the old Audrey would just boost up her confidence, like I am now," Audrey said.

Audrey hopes to continue making hearing aid charms, and eventually sell them to help raise money to buy hearing aids for children in need.

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