Bicyclist Jacob Landis made a promise to himself when he started his cross-country journey to raise funds and awareness of the benefits of cochlear implants.
He would combine his love of baseball and cycling and visit each major league ballpark in the nation.
On Tuesday, a banged-up and bruised Landis, 24, walked his bike across the finish line at Marlins Park, ending a 175-day, nearly 11,000 mile journey.
It was during the last leg of his trip that a crash almost derailed his dream. On Saturday evening, on U.S. Highway 27 South, just outside of Sebring, a tractor-trailer clipped him four miles from his hotel, sending him sprawling to the pavement, knocked unconscious. He suffered a broken nose, fractured facial bones, a chipped tooth and injuries to his left arm.
The trucker fled.
Luckily, his cousin, Jack Riddle, 32, who was his support van driver, had chosen to ride along with him that day, and was there to help.
Landis, a cook at a Whole Foods Market in Annapolis, Maryland, doesn’t remember the crash, likely caused by the truck’s side-view mirror striking him. He regained consciousness in Florida Hospital Heartland in Sebring.
“I’m glad it happened at the end, instead of in the beginning, because I was able to ride 10,666 miles and raise $130,000,” Landis said on Tuesday, during an interview before a party in his honor at the North Miami Whole Foods.
Starting off from his Annapolis hometown on April 3, Landis vowed to ride to all 30 major league ballparks nationwide. He completed the journey Tuesday, riding into Miami in his support van, and was honored at the Marlins stadium during a pre-game ceremony, amid cheers and raves from the crowd.
During nearly six months, he rode from the East Coast to the West Coast, then to the Southeast.
“I could not have made it over the mountains without the idea of the cause,” said Landis, who has a cochlear implant, which restores hearing to those with severe hearing loss. “When you’re pedaling 100 miles a day, you have to find something from within. I surprised myself with this ride.”
Deaf by the age of 10, Landis said having a cochlear implant “gave him a really great fresh start at life.”
And the best part of the bike ride, he said, was seeing the faces of the kids with cochlear implants at the baseball stadiums, especially those who had never met anyone before who had an implanted device. He said their parents would say, ‘See, he has one too; you’re not different.’”
The most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that 1.4 per 1,000 babies screened in the United States have hearing loss. About 3,000 children and adults receive cochlear implants each year nationwide, said Collin Griffin, clinical specialist for Advanced Bionics, the company which makes Landis’s implant. Many others don’t have access to doctors or insurance to cover the costly surgery.
A small, complex electronic device, the implant bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and delivers electronic impulses to the auditory nerve that sends information to the brain.
A cochlear implant restores enough hearing to allow someone to speak and hear spoken language, said Dr. Fred Telischi, a cochlear implant surgeon and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami.
“It’s really miraculous for people who have lost their hearing and can’t even use hearing aides,” he said. “And it is particularly good for children who are born deaf, who are identified early — within the first year or two of life — because when it is implanted early, they are likely to develop normal or near normal speech.”
In fact, surgery can be performed on babies as young as six months, as well as on adults, he said.
When Jacob was 2, his mother said she became concerned about his speech, and a hearing test showed he had slight hearing loss at higher decibels. In kindergarten, he needed a hearing aid. His hearing continued to go downhill.
“By the time he was 10, there was no hearing aid that could help him any more,” said Lois Landis, 54. “He was deaf.”
That was the year he received his implant, in Baltimore.
“Being able to get a cochlear implant turned his life around,” said his mother, who flew to South Florida with her husband, Jacob’s father Randy, for the trip’s finale. “His depression, his anger, was so overwhelming. Being able to get the cochlear implant, to be mainstreamed, made the biggest impact on his life.”
Jacob graduated from high school, got his associate’s degree in college and attended culinary school.
Indeed, the impact a cochlear implant can have is profound, said Dr. Samuel Ostrower, a cochlear implant surgeon at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
“We see children’s eyes open,” he said. “Their eyes sparkle at the sound of their parents voices for the first time, and at the sound of their own voice for the first time.”
Yet, patients still require months or years of speech and language therapy as well as programming of the device to tailor it to their needs, he said.
As he completed his journey, Jacob’s supporters stressed his tenacity and dedication to the cause.
“He’s like a real life super hero,” said Ivette Cejas, director of the Barton G Kids Hear Now Cochlear Implant Family Resource Center at the University of Miami, which helps families, including those in financial need.
“You made it through all the obstacles,” Cejas told Jacob at Tuesday’s ceremony. “You made it to be your personal mission. But it has gone beyond your personal mission, to be at a national level.”