I was born in 1952 when infant hearing testing wasn’t available. I also was adopted as a newborn with no known family history other than that the birth parents were healthy at the time of my birth. When I was two years old my adopted parents and I were in a car accident. I had only bruises whereas my parents had concussions and broken bones. It was after that accident that my parents noticed that my hearing was not as sharp. It was then that it was discovered that I had no hearing in my left ear and a mild sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. Was it caused from the car accident or was I born that way? No one knows.
The hearing loss in my right ear was very slowly progressive and other than sitting in the front of class in school, I seemed to do fine and was a good student. It was not until I was 21 years old in 1973 that I started wearing a bte hearing aid. At that time, I was told that I did very well aided and was told that my comprehension aided was 96%. In 1977, when I was 25 years old, married and the mother of a one year old, I got what was thought to be a bad cold. Unfortunately, within two weeks, my hearing had worsened drastically and was hearing about 20% with the most powerful bte hearing aid. The good part was neither my husband nor my toddler got that cold/virus. I started attending lip reading and aural rehabilitation classes to help me cope and to learn new skills.
In December, a week before Christmas and less than two months since having the virus, the rest of my hearing in my right ear just vanished leaving me totally deaf. Learning to adjust to deafness was a huge adjustment. However, I had a very supportive family and friends, began taking sign language classes to help supplement my lip-reading skills, got a variety of assistive technology devices for use in the home, such as a hearing ear dog, vibrating alarm clock and closed captioning for the TV.
Over the years our family grew to include 4 children. My children were great at helping me when I would struggle with communication with strangers, helped with any phone communication that I needed, and to them I was just Mom. I was very active in their lives and volunteered in various capacities in the school system while they were growing up. I refused to let deafness interfere with my life or the lives of my family. Yes, there were band and music concerts where I could hear nothing but it was important to give my children support in their activities, whether I could hear or not. I was fortunate to have a sign language interpreter at church so that I could “Hear” the word in my communication style. I did the best I could and I felt that it would be Heaven before I would truly be able to hear again! I would have gladly worn the biggest, most cumbersome hearing aids if it would have only given me some auditory ability but that was not to be.
Heaven on earth came earlier than I expected in 1989. I had been deaf for over 11 years when I learned about cochlear implants at a cochlear implant forum. I met a key person in my quest on cochlear implants, who became my “bionic sister” at that cochlear implant forum. Her support, both before and after implantation, has had a tremendous, ongoing impact on my life. I remember going to my otolaryngologist and asking him about cochlear implants and he told me that he thought I was too deaf to benefit from a cochlear implant. After various tests at the University of Michigan Cochlear Implant program, it was felt that I was a great candidate! I was implanted with Cochlear Corporation’s N22 in May 1989 and activated on June 1, 1989.
What a life changing experience! Yes, there was a lot of work involved in learning to hear voices and recognize environmental sounds. The rewards were incredible! Voices in the beginning had an “underwater” sound quality to them and music often sounded terrible, but I persisted. It took 3 months for voices to normalize. Over time, music sounded more like music and the music of my teenage years sounded the best of all! When I would hear a new sound, I often would try to get that sound to be repeated so that my brain would learn to identify the new sound. In a way, I was like a toddler who loves to play the same music or play with the same toys over and over again in order to get proficient only I was doing it with both environmental sounds and people’s voices.
Learning to use a telephone again was a daunting task and I was blessed with a girlfriend who called me daily and helped me to gain confidence in my phone skills. My favorite sounds were the voices of my husband and children. What a delight it was to communicate with them with an ease I never dreamed possible. How I loved putting the children to bed for the night and being able to talk with them in the dark and to listen to their prayers! To have one of my children tell me, “Mom, now we can really talk to you!” was such a source of joy. I’m a grandmother to a toddler now, and I love to hear Nick’s sweet little voice. I never heard any of my children learn to talk, so hearing Nick is absolutely precious. Yes, indeed, it was and continues to be a little Heaven on earth!
I dearly love that my cochlear implant will never be obsolete. As the technology has improved over the past 17 years that I’ve been a cochlear implantee, I have readily embraced the new technology. With the N22 cochlear implant, I went from the WSP speech processor, to the MSP, and then to the Spectra. In 1998, due to failing electrodes, which is rare, I was re-implanted to Cochlear Corporation’s N24 cochlear implant system with the sprint speech processor. In 2003, I upgraded to the 3G speech processor, which was my first ear level speech processor. How I loved no longer being tied down to cords as I had been with my body level processors. Just last month, I upgraded to the Freedom speech processor and like the upgrades before it, the technology and capabilities of the Freedom are greater than its predecessors. Music sounds richer than ever. I’m able to hear sounds that are softer (such as my cat’s purr). The 4 programs on the processor allow for greater flexibility in various listening environments. There is a pleasing crispness to speech, which I love. The telecoil is stronger and makes for added listening pleasure when used with assistive listening devices, such as loop systems or with hearing aid compatible telephones. I love having rechargeable batteries. I look forward to continuing technology improvements for my cochlear implant system for the rest of my life!
Have I achieved some “Heaven on Earth” with my cochlear implant? A resounding yes! I am truly blessed with my cochlear implant!