By Kate Taylor
The woman’s voice bounced out of the speaker and into the soundproof room. “Angel, can you hear me? Angel, look over here!” Each time he found her voice, he was rewarded with a display of lights and colors from a box above the speaker.
Eight-year-old Angel Guilaran celebrated his big anniversary with a trip to the speech pathologist in Memphis to have his cochlear implant checked and calibrated. The pathology appointment Nov. 18 was one year after the surgery that first gave him the ability to hear speech.
Angel’s parents, Dr. Fonsie Guilaran, assistant professor of physics at Union, and Lesley Guilaran, said his progress and his life have been remarkable. Angel has multiple disabilities and, only four years ago, the typically rambunctious boy was lying on a bed in a Filipino orphanage, barely able to lift his head from the sheets to meet his new parents.
Lesley Guilaran learned February 2003 she would be unable to bear children. She said she and her husband knew then they were going to adopt.
“(Fonsie) told me that God had called us to adopt the children that no one else wanted,” Lesley Guilaran said. “Our adoption was supposed to be a picture of the Gospel because we’re unwanted in our sin but Christ came for us.”
The Guilarans began the process to adopt Angel from the Philippines in the fall of 2004. At one point, Guilaran said, the adoption coordinator informed them that Angel was bedridden and blind, too disabled to be adoptable.
Lesley Guilaran said she told the adoption coordinator: “If I was pregnant with (Angel) and they told me that was how it was going to be, it wouldn’t matter and it doesn’t matter now. That’s our son and if he’s in a wheelchair, we’ll build a lift into our house. We’ll do whatever we have to do for him because that’s our son.”
The Guilarans traveled to the Philippines to get Angel on Nov. 14, 2005. He was four years old, Guilaran said, and severely malnourished. He weighed only 19 pounds and could barely walk. He had acquired no language, neither spoken nor sign, was not toilet trained and did not know how to feed himself.
“If you look at John 9,” Lesley Guilaran said, “it clearly talks about Christ’s disciples asking him, ‘Why was this man born blind? What did he do? What did his family do?’ Jesus said, ‘They didn’t do anything. It is so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’
“That is Angel’s life verse and that is the first verse we read to him because he displays the grace and mercy of God every single day.”
Angel is considered deaf-blind. He has severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. A congenital cataract, removed after his adoption, left him blind in his right eye. He is able to see close-up with his left eye but can see nothing far away.
Because of the years in an orphanage, Angel’s growth is stunted and he is developmentally delayed. He has sensory integration dysfunction and receives therapy to help his body learn to process sensory information correctly.
“We (told Angel) that God would be glorified through him and through his disabilities,” Lesley Guilaran said.
The Guilarans moved to Jackson in 2008 when Fonsie Guilaran began teaching in the physics department at Union. West Tennessee School for the Deaf, one of only two deaf schools in the state, is located in Jackson.
Since starting at the school in January, Guilaran said, Angel’s communication has vastly improved. He is now putting some sounds with signs and putting more signs together, she said. He can write his own name, he now understands numbers and he is learning the alphabet and how to spell words. Angel also receives occupational, physical, behavioral and speech therapy on a regular basis to address his specific developmental needs, Guilaran said.
The school emphasizes total communication, meaning teachers and students sign and speak simultaneously. Because of the emphasis on language and the use of technologies such as a SMART Board, Guilaran said, the deaf school is able to meet all of Angel’s educational needs.
“There are many reasons to be thankful for him,” Lesley Guilaran said. “He’s hilarious and funny and he cracks me up everyday; he’s sweet and loving and bright. All of those things — but I think the most profound thing is just seeing God’s grace in his life. I don’t know that everybody gets to live that.”