Estrada overcomes obstacles, an inspiration to others with her positive attitude

Sophomore Karla Estrada said she always wanted to know what it was like to have a crown on her head. She experienced this when she was crowned the sophomore princess. (Leenolia Robinson photo)

A small child sits in front of the television watching Rugrats. She hangs on every word the characters say. Frustrated, she moves closer until there is just inches between her and the television. She feels relief with the proximity but doesn’t think much of it. She’s just a kid, happy she can finally hear what Chucky and Tommy Pickles are saying on the screen.

Normal and content. That’s how this four year-old felt in spite of the challenges she was facing. She knew she was different from others her age but never allowed this to distract her from being the person she was or restrict her quality of life.

“I didn’t know I was deaf until I was almost seven years old,” sophomore Karla Estrada said. “Before that, I knew I couldn’t hear very well, but I thought everyone heard the same way. When I found out it wasn’t normal, I didn’t expect much to change.”

Besides being born deaf,  Estrada has a heart problem, stunting her growth leaving her at just 5′ tall and causing asthma. When she was younger, she also suffered a developmental issue with her skull. Her fontanelles (soft spots in her skull) were going to close early which would deform the shape of her head.

“Karla wouldn’t grow,” mother Rita Estrada said. “She couldn’t function as a baby. She would drink in tiny teaspoon increments, and I would have to feed her through a gastric tube when she couldn’t eat.”

Mrs. Estrada said as Karla’s age progressed, her health digressed.

“As Karla started growing, more health problems appeared,” Mrs. Estrada said. “She had to have heart surgery at nine months old. She had an operation performed on her ears when she was six or seven.”

Karla had challenges reaching milestone moments in life. Her father Dagoberto Estrada said her hearing problems hindered her from learning to speak.

“She had trouble pronouncing several sounds in words,” Mr. Estrada said. “She could not pronounce sounds like “ch”, “r”, “s”, and “g”.”

Both of Karla’s parents speak Spanish and do not know English.  Because the family moved to America to get more medical help for Karla, she had to learn a completely new language and still communicate with her parents in Spanish as well. Karla said learning to speak was further complicated because she had to learn both Spanish and English.

“It was really difficult,” Karla said. “Imagine learning your own language, struggling because you can’t hear, and then having to learn an even more difficult language.

Five years after moving to America, Karla was fitted for hearing aids.  She received her aids  prior to entering the fourth grade. Karla said from the point she put her hearing aids in for the first time, her life was completely different.

“My hearing aids were amazing,” Karla said. “For the first time, I could fully hear myself, my mom and things like wind and rain.”

Karla said hearing things for the first time in nature was interesting.  She explained going outside and hearing wind blow and rain fall.

“I was scared because I had felt both wind and rain but when I heard it for the first time it was so different,” Karla said.  “I really do not know how to explain it. It was just scary.”

Karla said even little things like riding in the car were different for her.  She explained how her dad use to tell her they were going really fast but all she knew was that the wind was blowing.

“I couldn’t hear things like airplanes going over us or the roar of the tires on the road,” Karla said.  “All I could do is feel the wind. When I heard these things I wasn’t sure what was going on.”

Mrs. Estrada said Karla was determined to overcome her problems. She said Karla never knew she had a problem so she just worked hard to accomplish her goals.

“She was always independent,” Mrs. Estrada said. “She taught herself how to read lips.”

Although Karla was deaf, this didn’t change the way she was viewed in the home.  Mrs. Estrada said she was just one of her children.

“My behavior towards Karla was to always treat her like a normal child,” Mrs. Estrada said. “I wanted everyone else to treat her the same way we did at home.”

Because Karla received hearing aids  in fourth grade, students looked at her like something was wrong with her.  Karla said she received the opposite treatment from children at school.

“In elementary school, kids did not want to be my friend,” Karla said.”They thought I ignored them or thought I was dumb. They called me strange.”

Karla said that sometimes she was teased because of her physical conditions. She was even called names and laughed at. Karla began to believe that something was wrong with her.

“I’ll never forget the boy in fourth grade who called me a robot because of my hearing aids,” Karla said. “I felt so angry and insecure.”

Karla said this caused her to alter hear appearance in order to hide her hearing aids. She began finding creative ways to keep her grade school classmates from considering her as an outcast.

“I was ashamed,” Karla said. “I wore my hair down to cover my ears so no one would see I wore hearing aids.”

Students continued to make jokes about her. Karla said she eventually just let them talk about her and used their words to grow from.

“The teasing only made me stronger in the end,” Karla said.

Gaining Confidence

When Karla's name was called she said she did not really know she was the name called. She said when the class president came to put the crown on it sank in that she was really the winner. (Leenolia Robinson photo)
When Karla’s name was called she said she did not really know she was the name called. She said when the class president came to put the crown on it sank in that she was really the winner. (Leenolia Robinson photo)

“The sophomore Homecoming Princess is…” Karla holds her breath as the announcer pauses for a second. With the sophomore princess candidates standing by, the words “Karla Estrada” bellow out over Panther Stadium. The look on her face is a one of complete disbelief. She looks at the other candidates, puzzled and unable to process this reality. When class president Esteban Andrade places the crown on her head, she realizes her peers really have chosen her to represent them as Princess. At that moment  a mile-wide smile comes to her face.

” I’ve always been curious about how it feels to have a crown on your head so I ran for Homecoming Princess,” Karla said. “I was so surprised when I won; I really never thought I would. I just wanted to be one of the nominees on the field that night.”

Although Karla’s early life went without having many friends she received the vote from a majority of her sophomore class for homecoming. She also found a close friend in Nancy Aguilar last year.  Aguilar explains her friendship with Karla was nothing short of a normal friendship. The two share lots of laughter and memories and bond over their mutual love for music.

“Deaf or hearing, Karla is still a person,” Aguilar said. “There have been no difficulties with being her friend, or any differences compared to other friendships. Everything is normal.”

Aguilar admits Karla has been an inspiration to her.  Aguilar said Karla has many admirable qualities that make her a great person.

“Karla is such a generous person,” Aguilar said. “She has the most honest heart and is always positive.”

Freshman connections teacher Kimberly Baker said she met Karla during her freshman year when Karla joined the organization Club Fresh as the historian. Baker admits she quickly took a liking to Karla as both a student and a leader.

“Karla was a little ball of fire in Club Fresh,” Baker said. “I always found her to be very hardworking and always asking how she could help. She’s someone I’ve always been able to count on.”

Baker said Karla was completely devoted to fulfilling her tasks as the historian. One thing Ms. Baker will not forget is that she always had a camera around her neck and loved taking photos.

“She brought a camera to take pictures of games for the club,” Baker said. “She was paying to get in, so I introduced her to Mr. Rich.”

Newspaper adviser James Rich said Karla immediately displayed her willingness to learn and work. He explained that when most would not go the extra mile to stay late for games or to edit photos, Karla had the drive to learn.

“Karla wasn’t even in my class, but she was very enthusiastic about learning photography,” Rich said. “She would come to me almost every day and ask if there was anything she could shoot. That’s something I don’t see in a lot of other students.”

Rich said Karla has continued to work towards improvement as a photographer. He admits that every time he has a problem, he turns to Karla because he knows she is determined enough to find a solution.

“Karla’s one of those students who doesn’t need to be motivated,” Rich said. “She motivates herself. She’s one of those kids that always asks, ‘What can I do to be better?’. She has a lot of drive, and she’s a very hard worker who is not afraid of any challenges.”

Karla said she is happy with how her life has turned out and the person she has become. She is part of Student Council, maintains top grades in her classes and attends everything she can.

“Right now, my life is a-maze-ing,” Karla said. “There have been a few bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t change a thing. My hearing problem has made me who I am. It’s made me stronger, and I’ve learned to cherish the simple things.”

Karla said she has several goals for the remainder of high school. Those goals involve adding more things to her already busy schedule of activities.

“I want to continue working with student council and publications,” Karla said. “I also hope to eventually join the Skills U.S.A team for engineering. I want to continue making “A”s and “B”s and graduate with a 3.5 GPA.”

Karla said she hasn’t chosen the path she will take after high school yet, but she is considering photography. She said she loves being behind the camera but there are so many options for her to consider.

“I love to do so many things – photography, art, music and engineering,” Karla said. “So, I don’t really know what I want to major in or what college I want to attend, but I want to travel the world, taking pictures for National Geographic or Getty Images.”

Karla speaks to everyone with a smile on her face and is a friend to all. She said whatever she ends up doing, she wants to be able to share her story with others and serve as an ispiration.

“God didn’t give me the ability to hear, but he gave me the ability to inspire,” Karla said. “That’s what I want my fate to be. I want to show the world that you can do whatever you want with any disabilities or any problems. You can always achieve your goals. Of course you will fall, and you may feel like giving up, but don’t. Have faith in God and be persistent, and you will be able to get up, shake it off, and keep going.”