Oticon Alta

I'm Hear Again!

Yes, I am certainly hearing again. Hearing and loving it! After almost 30 years of silence, my cochlear implant has changed my life more than I dreamed, more than I could have imagined. Yes, if I had it to do over again, indeed I would.

I lost my hearing at a gradual pace due to meningitis as a child. Because of the gradual hearing loss, I was able to learn the sounds of speech while I still had some hearing left. Of course this is not true of all deaf people. Some deaf people never had hearing, and for them learning speech sounds, pronunciation and proper articulation is much more difficult. I do speak well and I consider myself oral deaf.

I wore an assortment of hearing aids until 1991. By that time, I was so profoundly deaf, that even using two powerful BTEs (behind the ear hearing aids) was no longer adequate. I simply wasn't getting the sound I needed to make sense of the words spoken. In fact, I wasn't hearing a thing. I became one of the world's best lip readers and really felt I had come to terms with my hearing loss. I had a TTY, captions, flashing doorknockers, what more could I ask for?

Although the FDA approved cochlear implants in the mid 1980s, it was early in the 1990s that so many success stories about ''cochlear implants'' proliferated the media. I read about cochlear implants in newspapers and magazines, and there were stories on TV, it was everywhere. The positive results and the experiences of the patients inspired me to do some research and spend time with friends who had been implanted.

I realized that they actually did hear -- not perfectly, but they were happy with their cochlear implants. I decided this was something that could possibly change my life. Of course it was not an easy decision. There were many considerations having to do with my lifestyle, the surgery, my tiny bit of residual hearing, the probable outcome versus the possible outcome, the costs, the insurance issues and on and on. Nonetheless, after careful consideration and much reflection, I decided to go for it.

I was implanted in December, 1998 with the Clarion S-Series. After outpatient surgery, I left the hospital with a bandage around the right side of my head. Within a week or so I was able to shower and pretty soon the hair grew back! A month later, it was hook-up time.

I should explain that when you have cochlear implant surgery, the first step is to have the implanted device surgically placed into the ear. Once that is accomplished, the wound has to heal for about 4 to 6 weeks. The surgery is performed by an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) and in fact, most of the surgeons that work with cochlear implants are otologists or neurotologists, meaning they really just work on ears, not noses and not throats!

Additionally, the piece that is implanted has a magnet. After the wound heals, the magnet under the skin holds the external unit, also with a magnet, in place. After the surgeon is satisfied that everything was physically OK, the audiologist places the external portion of the implant over the magnet, and then the ''tune-up'' process begins.

Initially, the tune-up process is fairly basic. I learned how to place the implant on and off my head, I learned how to operate the controls, and I had to tell the audiologist which levels of sound were comfortable and which were annoying. The audiologist used that information to tune and adjust the cochlear implant so it was essentially set exactly for my hearing loss.

After that, I embarked on 10 weeks of relearning to hear with the help of an auditory therapist. Thankfully, the therapist pushed me to the limits to understand all the new sounds. When the therapist decided to shove me out the door, I dug in my heels and had my programs ''tweaked'' whenever I thought something didn't sound right. As a baby learns to walk, I learned to hear. It wasn't easy. At first I heard noises and sounds, but I did not recognize them, and it took time for the sounds to start to make sense to me. As time went by, I was better able to understand the sounds, and after a few months of practice, I could discriminate speech very well. It took me longer to learn various environmental sounds such as fire alarms, jackhammers, and office machines. Why? You might ask -- because I had never heard those sounds before!

A year went by, and then another. I was hearing better and better but still afraid to tackle the telephone!

One day in the summer of 2001, I was expecting my son to visit. It was 5 o'clock and I was home alone. The phone rang. I checked the caller ID and it displayed my son's name. What to do? I hesitated, but then I thought, he could either be calling to say he can't make it, or he'll be late. I decided that I was ready and that I could handle it.

I picked up the telephone receiver. ''This is Relay Texas, I have a call for Gerri Trumbo.'' Clear as a bell. I heard the relay agent!

''Oh my god -- I can hear on the phone!'' Tears streamed down my face. I explained to the very confused relay agent and my son that I could hear what was being said. It was amazing and wonderful, and emotional! It was the first time I heard my son's voice. It was beyond words.

Since that first time I heard my son's voice, I have enjoyed many additional successes on the telephone and with other situations that require the sense of hearing -- far more than I ever thought possible. I can use a cell phone with the volume turned up, and the same goes for almost any phone that I have tried. I can forego captions both on television and at meetings. I can understand music and once again, I am attending movies and concerts.

Recently, the behind-the-ear (BTE) model cochlear implant became available and that is what I was waiting for. When I received the Clarion BTE, it was again, a whole new story. The changes and improvements and the miniaturization keep getting better and better. Now I have the T-mic, which is to me, the greatest little accessory in the world! The T-mic can be described as a little molded microphone that fits gently in the ear canal. Now I can place the phone receiver naturally against my ear. And another dream came true is that I can use headphones on my Discman. Now isn't that cool?!

In May of last year, I took a new job as the Library Manager at the Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Most of the staff didn't know I have hearing loss, or that I'm deaf, or that I wear a cochlear implant. It was only when I worked on getting emergency weather captions and received newspaper publicity, that a few people asked me why was I involved in that area of advocacy. I told them it's because I am deaf! Even then, most could not understand until I explained about my deafness and my cochlear implant.

Prior to my hookup I remember sitting at the table with my husband, a bandage covering my head, and he told me, ''All this will be worth it if you can hear ANY sound at all. Remember that.'' He was right. I will always remember that, and I will always be grateful for the sounds I hear. I'm hear again!

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Visit www.bionicear.com for more information about Advanced Bionics.

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