"I remember my mother saying to my older brother, 'Your sister has a fever of 106 degrees,' " Mallette said, although she doesn't remember being taken to a hospital.
Today, even with the assistance of two hearing aids, Mallette is unable to perceive notes at the high end of a piano keyboard. She hears human speech in "chunks" that she has to work hard to make sense of. When she speaks, she can't quite wrap her mouth around certain sounds such as "r" or "ch," which she can't hear and can only do her best to approximate.
Yet adversity has not stopped Mallette from living a full life — including work she loves, a happy marriage to classical violinist Bruce Mallette and contributions to her community.
Mallette, who joined the UCLA staff in 1980 as an administrative assistant, now serves as training coordinator for the Office of Research Administration, helping research administrators campuswide understand the myriad regulations that govern research funding.
"It has been said that the psychology of the handicapped is to work twice as hard to overcome the burden of imperfection," Mallette said. "Given how I always push myself, that might be true. I don't wait for life to give me a kick in the pants."
As a child, she recalled, "I was teased all the time because of my speech. It was awful."
Nevertheless, she had a pervasive interest in public speaking. And upon delivering a humorous oral report on her summer vacation to high school classmates, she finally found relief: "Everyone loved what I had to say, and I was more accepted after that."
As an adult, Mallette joined Toastmasters, a nonprofit organization that helps people overcome the common fear of public speaking. And while she herself didn't feel that fear, she wanted to improve her skills.
"I've always had the sense that somewhere in my life I would be helping people overcome adversity," she said. "And to do that, I need to be a good communicator."
Today, she belongs to four Toastmasters Clubs, including two that she started at UCLA: Bruin and Wilshire Toastmasters, which meet at Murphy Hall and at the Wilshire Center. Currently Mallette serves as the second highest ranking officer in her Toastmasters district, and she will assume the post of District Governor next summer. Three years ago, she started a club for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park. And two months ago she created a club for the Mary Magdalene Project, a Los Angeles nonprofit group that helps former prostitutes build new lives.
Recently, Mallette was honored with an Oticon Focus on People Award, given to 12 individuals nationwide who defy stereotypes of what it means to have a hearing loss.
"I feel that I can show people it is possible to work through difficult issues," she said. "You have to do everything you can to get through it. But it's worth the effort."