BLOOMFIELD, NJ — She sang at the fifth annual Bloomfield Most Talented Competition on Tuesday, Nov. 21. And although not a finalist, Carteret Elementary School third-grader Zoe Love deserved a prize for a little girl’s triumph over adversity.
The competition, hosted by the Bloomfield Cultural Commission at Bloomfield High School, attracted 31 elementary, high school and college students from the township who sang, danced, played music instruments, delivered a monologue, and also performed gymnastic and martial arts routines. For sure, it was a wide ranging variety show.
Eight-year-old Zoe sang “Where Do I Go From Here,” from the Disney movie, “Pocahontas II.” When she had finished, the talent judges commented that her voice possessed a wonderfully dynamic range and her future was open to her, so impressed were they with her performance.
But until she was 4, the girl could hardly speak intelligibly.
According to her mother, Rosalee Ofray, when Zoe was 1 year old she began to have ear infections practically every other week.
“We went to Clara Maass Hospital,” Ofray said in her kitchen last week. “A doctor said it would go away.”
But whatever the problem was, it did not go away. Zoe was subsequently diagnosed by her pediatrician as being on the autism spectrum. So for awhile it was thought her speaking problems were related to autism.
“She was evaluated at 2 ½ years old,” Ofray said. “She had a speech therapist because she couldn’t pronounce words.”
No one knew Zoe could not speak properly because she could not hear clearly. Fluids were building up in her ears.
“It’s like swimming under water,” Ofray said. “The words she heard were almost like an echo. The autism was a separate book.”
When she had an ear infection, Ofray said her daughter’s adenoids became swollen, she developed postnasal drip and ran fevers. There were visits to the emergency room.
“It was really bad the first two years,” Ofray said. “She would go into trembles.”
Calling it a mother’s intuition, Ofray took her daughter to another doctor when the girl was 3. She was given a hearing test. It was then discovered that Zoe’s ears were not draining properly.
This buildup of fluids was causing the infections which, it was learned, had damaged the girl’s eardrums.
“Once the ear doesn’t drain, because everything in the head is connected, she’d get full-blown infections,” Ofray said. “It’s the worst thing seeing your child lying there at a tender age and in pain. And being a single mother, it’s just worse.”
Zoe underwent a series of operations. In December 2012, she had tiny tubes inserted into her ears to drain them. Her tonsils and adenoids were removed. In 2014 and 2016, there were operations to rid the tubes of any waxy buildup. They would then be reinserted. The tubes are to be removed January 2018 to see if they are still needed.
“The doctor explained that ear drums are alive but hers weren’t alive as they should be,” Ofray said. “They needed a jumpstart and the tubes were the jumpstart.”
She remembers the date of Feb. 22, 2013, a few months after the first operations, when Zoe said something to her.
“She said ‘I love you, momma,’ at 2:45 in the morning, in her sleep,” Ofray said. “It’s the first time she said that. I was very emotional. I’ll never forget it.”
Two weeks after the girl had been first treated and the pressure on her ears relieved, Ofray said she was in the kitchen when Zoe, watching “Pocahontas II,” burst into song. She sang “Where Do I Go From Here.”
“I was astonished,” Ofray said.
Her recent performance was the first time Zoe had performed in the Bloomfield’s Most Talented Competition. She had performed in a Newark School District talent show when attending school there.
“Coming to Bloomfield was a blessing,” Ofray said. “Principal John Baltz is like a dad to her. Everyone is so protective and supportive.”
Besides singing, Ofray said her daughter loves to dance.
“And choirs for my mom,” Zoe interjects with a broad smile.
“She’s a big help,” her mother agrees.