Mike Morris, The Union Democrat

When Amanda Folendorf was born, doctors couldn't find a heartbeat.

"They couldn't figure out why I was alive," she said.

Folendorf was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, which caused her lungs to collapse and her heart to shift. She was flown from the Sonora hospital where she was born to Children's Hospital Oakland, where she stayed for more than four months.

While being treated there, she was given medicine to keep her alive that severely damaged her hearing.

"I call myself deaf. I label myself deaf. Some people label themselves 'hard of hearing,' " she said. "But I'm not 'hearing impaired.' I'm not broken. There's nothing wrong with me. I can do everything but hear."

Case in point: At age 28, Folendorf works at the Stanislaus National Forest's Mi-Wok Ranger District and was recently elected to a seat on the Angels Camp City Council.

Another example: Folendorf's parents were told by doctors she would never be able to play sports, and she ended up running cross country and playing varsity softball for Bret Harte High School.

"My parents didn't even know I couldn't hear until I was 7," she said.

Folendorf had become so skilled at reading lips at a young age that she was able to get by without anyone noticing. That was until her elementary school teacher discovered she was struggling with reading and suggested another hearing test.

When the doctor put a piece of paper over his lips, Folendorf said she didn't know what he was saying.

"I knew he was talking, but I didn't know what words were coming out of his mouth," she recalled.

Folendorf, who was given hearing aids and worked with a speech therapist, had strong support from her family and teachers to get through school. She graduated from Bret Harte High in 2004 - the same year she was a Miss Calaveras contestant.

She actually represented the state's deaf community as Miss Deaf California from 2007 to 2009. For the past four years, she has volunteered for the California Deaf Youth Program, which focuses on leadership, mentoring and advocating for the rights of deaf people.

For the complete story, see the Dec. 4, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.