Student Spotlight – Alex and Leo Haban

When Alex Haban was born with moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss due to the Connexin 26 gene, his parents, Byron Haban and Kelly Pitocco, were scared and uncertain. “We worried about his future and how we would have a relationship and communicate with him,” Kelly recounts.

Upon receiving the news of Alex’s diagnosis, the couple researched extensively for education options. “We reached out to a wide array of agencies and advocacy groups, attended the AG Bell Convention, and sought guidance from Children’s Hospital and our local early childhood intervention agencies,” Kelly explains. Despite their doubts, they were determined to provide Alex with the opportunity to become the best version of himself.

Then, during a meeting with an early intervention worker, Byron asked the question that would unlock the key to their son’s future: if money wasn’t a consideration, what would you recommend for Alex? Kelly recalls the worker’s response and the sequence of events that followed. “She told us about a new school in Ohio for deaf oral communication. We called Maria and she was in the midst of starting Ohio Valley Oral School. When we met with her, we knew it was the right place.”

Thankfully the then-budding program offered financial assistance that allowed Alex to attend. He entered Ohio Valley Oral School—later named Ohio Valley Voices—in 2000 at the age of 2, starting in the Toddler Room and soon advancing to the Learning Center alongside his friends Rachit, Ethan, Abby, Sara, and Shane. When the couple’s second child, Leo, was diagnosed with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss just two years later, the path was obvious: they sent him to OVV to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“I called our audiologist and let her know Leo had failed his newborn hearing exam,” Kelly says. “She said the wisest thing possible—’just love your baby and we’ll sort the rest out later.’ I’ve tried to keep those words in my heart anytime I worry about the boys—it will sort out as long as we’re a family first.” 

Alex and Leo

At OVV, Alex and Leo flourished. With the unwavering support of Maria, Molly, Carey, Meredith, and the rest of the staff, they learned words and how to pronounce them. “The staff were nice and showed genuine care,” Alex says. “They made learning fun.”

But the Haban brothers didn’t just work hard at OVV; they had lots of fun too. Alex fondly recalls going on field trips, taking care of Oreo the school rabbit, and playing soccer for the first time with his classmates, while Leo cherishes his memories of playing on recess, making pizzas at LaRosa’s, and performing as Leo the Lion in the school play.

Alex and Leo mainstreamed into the Madeira City School District, graduating from Madeira High School in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Now in college, they both attend the University of Cincinnati, where Alex majors in Business Analytics and Leo is undecided with an interest in green technologies. Their interests, meanwhile, are impressively mature: Alex enjoys sports analysis, working with data, and recreational softball and soccer and Leo loves social media, leathercraft, and building models.

As they stand on the brink of adulthood, the brothers feel immense gratitude for all that Ohio Valley Voices has given them. “OVV greatly improved my ability to communicate and that allows me to overcome the limitations of being deaf,” Alex says. Striking a similar note, Leo remarks, “I came out of OVV knowing that I’m not alone in being deaf, that there are other kids like me.” He seems to speak for both of them when he adds, “OVV put me on the path to a future of my own making.”

Kelly is grateful too. She says her family’s Ohio Valley Voices experience was nothing short of miraculous: “OVV gave us everything we needed when we needed it. We got information, advocacy, support, comradery with other families, strategies to help the boys, guidance, and technical support. It was like a one-stop shop that provided us with a full tool kit for raising our sons and giving them what they needed for a future filled with opportunity. OVV gave us hope and peace of mind.”

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