RIO GRANDE – If there were a contest to find New Jersey’s most outstanding comeback kid, then resilient teenager Annika Mikael Marks of Rio Grande would head the list of potential winners.
And why not? How many can claim that when they were 7-years-old and younger they spent more time as patients in many of South Jersey’s hospitals than in their homes?
How many can say that death courted their doorstep three times before being chased away by stronger forces?
And how many can tell that being hearing-impaired they underwent 10 reconstructive ear surgeries so they could hear what people were saying instead of having to frequently repeat the word “Huh?”
Today, nine years later at the age of 16 and a high honors junior at Wildwood Catholic High School, Marks has rebounded from all those infirmities and is on a roll to help others do the same in their personal health problems.
Marks’ comeback has included learning to play 23 musical instruments, portrayed Juliet in search of Romeo in one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, rebuilt old shoes and raised more than $3,000 to send disabled children to summer camp.
She stands 5 feet, 7 inches tall, plays tennis and softball and owns a green belt in karate. Rather impressive for someone they feared wasn't going to make it when she was much younger.
Wherever she goes today Marks is putting in a few words (or maybe a thousand?) for the benefit of those with hearing problems.
“I feel I can give a personal side to hearing loss, and show what you can overcome and achieve through proper diagnosis and treatment plan whether using hearing aids, speech classes, FM systems in the classrooms, or a combination of all three,” she tells her listeners.
“Being hearing impaired has not stopped me from reaching my goals. I want to show children it can’t and won’t stop them in life. Many times we are given obstacles. I want to show children they can either go under them, around them, over them or through them. Nothing can stop you once you set a goal and work to achieve it.”
Marks' lack of hearing was discovered at an outdoor Christmas celebration in West Cape May when she was 2 years old. Her mother, Tamala, suspected that something was amiss when her daughter slept soundly through the sounds of the fire engines' noisy sirens.
Subsequent testing revealed her hearing was deficient; the sirens were not.
But there was more to come, even worse. Her immune system wasn’t working either, and it was discovered that her body was not fighting off infections.
The good news was that she was not bothered by pesky colds. The bad news was that even antibiotics didn’t work and the colds were bypassed as the road to bad health led directly to pneumonia.
“Those were difficult times,” her mother said as she looked fondly at her now robust daughter.
“She made every hospital in South Jersey and spent more time in them than out of them,” she continued.
Three times, her mother reflected, the family came very close to summoning a priest to administer last rites.
Marks' musical talents emerged from her illness. A doctor suggested that to strengthen her lungs she should practice on a blowing instrument.
She chose the trumpet and became so proficient at it that she was selected as first chair of her school orchestra. That led her to playing 22 other instruments, among them the banjo, ukulele and the chanter which is part of the bagpipe on which the music is played.
Much of Marks’ skills and volunteerism have been honored by the Philadelphia Phillies, the Soroptimist Club, the Girl Scouts and the cities of Cape May and North Wildwood where recently she was recently chosen as Miss North Wildwood.