Heather Whitestone McCallum became the first Miss America with a disability on September 17th, 1994. In that moment, she has proved to the world that no obstacle is too big and that with hard work, determination and Godís help, we can accomplish whatever we set out to do. Heatherís accomplishments are particularly astounding considering the fact that she has been profoundly deaf since she was eighteen months old.
Heather was rushed to the hospital with a dangerously high fever, the cause of which was later diagnosed as the Haemophilus influenzae virus. Her doctors also suspect that she simultaneously contracted meningitis as she had a severe blood infection. According to the doctors, she was only hours from death when they administered two powerful antibiotics that reduced her fever and saved her life.
A few months later on Christmas Day, her mother accidentally dropped a pile of pans on the kitchen floor and Heather, who was playing nearby, did not even flinch. At the Childrenís Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, Heather tested as "profoundly deaf" with no hearing in either ear. Her condition was concluded to be the result of her near fatal illness.
Ironically, Heatherís deafness was a blessing. Throughout her childhood, Heather barely heard the voices of discouragement that hearing people often hear. She did not hear the doctor telling her family that she wouldnít develop past a third grade level. She never heard the vulgar language that permeates our culture. She never heard the voices of those who said she could never dance ballet, let alone speak.
Despite the odds, Heather and her family forged ahead. Determined to live a normal life, Heather mainstreamed in a hearing public school and became the only deaf student in the whole school. In fourth grade, Heather learned about the story of a young woman from Alabama who would forever change her life -- Helen Keller. Helen became Heather's role model.
Unfortunately, Heather was unable to keep up with her class work and began to fall behind her peers. At eleven years old, Heather asked her family to send her to a special school that would enable her to catch up with other students in her class. While at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Missouri, Heather learned two grade levels per year. After three difficult but exciting years, Heather caught up with her peers and returned to Alabama to graduate from public high school with 3.6 GPA.
It was also during her high school years that Heather accepted Jesus as her Savior. Even though she grew up in a church, she never asked Jesus to forgive her sins personally until she was fifteen years old. Heather is proud to say that Jesus became her biggest role model as a young adult and that his influence in her life is the key to all of her success.
Heather enrolled in college and soon began to compete in local pageants. For some girls competing in pageants was strictly for fun, but Heather was on an entirely different mission. Due to financial hardship at home, Heather began competing in order to earn the valuable scholarship money that was available to the winners. She saw the pageants as a way to help to pay for school.
However, before long, Heather decided that she wanted to seriously compete for Miss Alabama. Twice, Heather made it to the Miss Alabama pageant only to come in second place both times. She was ready to quit. However, encouraged by her family and friends, Heather decided to give it one more shot. It had taken Heather six years to correctly pronounce her last name, so she knew winning Miss Alabama was possible.
Over the next year, Heather worked tirelessly to improve all aspects of her program. Her hard work and determination paid off.
On her third attempt, Heather won the Miss Alabama pageant and a few short months later, she was in Atlantic City, New Jersey competing for the title of Miss America 1995.
Stunning the audience and the world with a ballet routine performed to Christian vocalist Sandi Pattiís Via Dolorosa, Heather captured the hearts of all those who watched from around the world.
As the competition narrowed to two contestants, Heather calmly awaited the outcome. Often, people would ask Heather what it felt like to hear the Regis Philbin say, "and Miss America 1995 is... Heather Whitestone!" Heather laughs and says, "I never heard it."
In that one instant Heatherís life was changed forever. Heather became the first woman with a disability crowned Miss America in the pageantís 75-year history. Heather has always believed that the biggest handicap is negative thinking and that people handicap themselves by concentrating only on the negative instead of the positive.
with God nothing shall be impossible."