Staefa, Switzerland, November 8, 2010
Born blind and deaf in Valparaiso, Chile, 17-year-old piano prodigy Yerko DiFonis, surpassed all expectations when his family discovered his extraordinary musical ability. Hindered by the lack of educational programs for deaf-blind children in Chile, Yerko’s parents moved to the United States in 1998, but saw their life change abruptly in October 2010 when the United States immigration authorities ordered his family to return to Chile. To assist Yerko in his dream of pursuing a career in music by attending a music conservatory, the Hear the World Foundation has established a fund to help cover his college costs.
Yerko DiFonis was born blind and with moderate to severe irreversible hearing loss in both ears. At the age of four, he began showing signs of extraordinary musical talent. Due to limited specialized education programs available for their son in their homeland of Chile, Betty and Stefanos DiFonis made the difficult decision to leave their family and country behind in search of a better education for Yerko. In 1998, they sold everything they owned and with limited funds, moved to New York City.
“Yerko was not able to get the right education in Chile. It made me a little crazy,” explained his father Stefanos DiFonis. “I had to make the decision to leave everything and get what was right for my son so he could be independent.”
Hearing technology opens new doors
Thirteen years later, as an honor student and phenomenally gifted pianist with perfect pitch, Yerko sees the world through his ears. However, without hearing aids, Yerko had almost no access to speech and limited access to music. Even with the use of hearing aids, Yerko still struggled with sound localization and detecting high frequency sounds in speech and music. In June 2009, he was fitted with a Phonak Naída hearing aid with SoundRecover technology, a unique feature that allows you to hear high pitched sounds. He is now not only able to tell where sounds are coming from, allowing him to be more independent, but he can also access high-pitched sounds, enhancing the way he interprets and plays music.
“I can hear what I am playing better and hence I am able to react and accompany someone much better,” Yerko explained.
As a high school student at New York City’s prestigious La Guardia School for the Performing Arts, Yerko flourished. He no longer needed someone to accompany him wherever he went, allowing him to excel in school and dazzle audiences with his musical genius. In 2009, Yerko won first place in New York State’s Very Special Arts (VSA) Young Soloists Competition. Studying both classical and jazz piano, he began writing his own compositions and in the spring of 2010, Yerko mastered a solo performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In October 2010, Yerko’s life changed abruptly when the United States immigration authorities ordered the family to return to Chile. Given the lack of education opportunities for the disabled still existing in Chile today, Yerko is on his own for the time being, pursuing self-study. His current dream is to attend a music conservatory in pursuit of his ultimate goal of establishing a career in music.
Dalia Sakas, Yerko’s former piano instructor at the International Lighthouse School in New York City, predicts a bright future for him: “Yerko has no boundaries, and I see him going wherever he wants to go.”
The Hear the World Foundation, a charitable organization established in 2007 by leading Swiss hearing instrument manufacturer Phonak, has established a fund to assist Yerko in the pursuit of his dreams. Funding will be used to help cover his college expenses. The Hear the World Foundation gladly welcomes additional contributions to this fund so that this young musical genius can make his own contribution to the sounds of life.