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From Hearing Impaired to Deaf, from Hearing Aids to a Cochlear Implant. Life is good.

Directing plays at our Community Little Theater has been a hobby of mine for a number of years, but as my hearing deteriorated because of Menieres Disease, I could no longer do the job I wanted to do with the theater group.

At work, I frequently had to rely on notes from others to be sure I knew what had occurred in meetings I attended. At first, I rebelled at the idea of getting hearing aids. But then again, I knew that I had to do something if I were to continue to function in the hearing world. Once I finally made up my mind to help myself, and get the hearing aids I needed, I found out that hearing aids really worked very well and I wore them and functioned quite normally for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, as my hearing loss continued to get worse, I was eventually told that my hearing loss was beyond what hearing aids could help. Nonetheless, I was desperate and I tried several new hearing aids. They just didn't work for me any longer. I began taking sign language classes so I could continue to communicate after my hearing had gone completely. I just couldn't learn ASL (American Sign Language) - probably had something to do with teaching old dogs new tricks. I wasn't able to practice and improve with anyone, and eventually I gave up on sign language as an alternative for me.

I began to withdraw from crowds at parties and other social gatherings. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or repeating the same thing that someone else had just said. My life was becoming less and less public and more and more private. I began to pursue hobbies and activities that did not require social interaction.

At that point, in addition to my hearing loss, I became ill with end stage renal disease and I began dialysis.

After three years of dialysis and attempting to work full time, the moment of truth arrived. It exploded in life changing events; the summer of 2001 became an exciting adventure -- a once in a lifetime experience!

My son had undergone testing to give me a kidney, but he was eventually ruled out as a donor. About a month or two after his exclusion, a man who worked in the same firm as my son, had a massive brain hemorrhage and died. The family called the firm and told them that if anyone associated with the firm in any way needed an organ they would have first priority.

The kidney was a match and I received my kidney transplant in May, 2001.

I had scheduled my CI surgery, but it had to be postponed when the kidney became available. As I recovered from the kidney transplant, I trained my doctors and nurses how to communicate with Hard of Hearing (HOH) persons. They were willing students and learned quickly.

I got out of the hospital and anxiously awaited my CI surgery. It was finally rescheduled for August, 2001. The six weeks of complete deafness between healing and "hookup" were the most stressful time I believe I ever experienced. The only way to receive communication was by reading, supplemented sometimes with the minimal knowledge I had of speech reading. My withdrawal from the world was greater than ever.

Everything changed the first day of my hookup. I went to dinner with my family and we were able to have a normal conversation around the table. We had not done that in about five years. I could hear! I could understand almost every word.

During the many years of hearing loss, I had not been a passive HOH person. I organized a local group of SHHH (Self Help for Hard of Hearing) and served as chair for 4 years. I had pursued an appointment on the New Mexico Commission for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons. I was appointed to a seat by our Governor. I began to see the need of more statewide emphasis by the Commission. In its first five years, it had become essentially a social outlet for the Deaf community. When I became chairman and we selected a new Executive Director, the Commission began to change. We began my tenure with a budget of about 200 thousand dollars. Today, our budget is over 800 thousand dollars. We now have 11 full-time employees. The services have greatly expanded.

I don't mean to sound as if I did these things! Our Director and staff are excellent and have actively lobbied for additional funds and have been well received by our legislators. My fellow Commissioners are professional and dedicated. We have two cochlear implant wearers on the Commission now, 3 deaf persons, a representative from Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, and a parent of a deaf child.

My cochlear implant and I have celebrated our one year anniversary together. We have been re-mapped a few times. I like my cochlear implant BTE (behind-the-ear unit) for its portability, but I feel more comfortable with the belt worn model in a lot of situations.

It has taken a year for music to begin to sound nearly normal. I can now listen to my favorite music and not have it sound so distorted that I could not recognize it. With the adapter and my belt worn processor, phone conversations are easily understood. I can talk on my cell phone and hear adequately to do my business when needed. That is true with both my BTE and the belt worn processor.

I have put in a bid to direct a play this coming season at our Community Little Theater. My confidence has returned and I have come out of my withdrawal feelings. No, my hearing is not like I remember it. But it is miles ahead of where I was as a deaf person wearing hearing aids.

I want to be clear on this point, hearing aids are fantastic and they are very useful, and very worthwhile for hearing impaired people. In fact, the digital hearing aids available at this time are vastly superior to anything I had available when I was able to wear hearing aids. I have worn two hearing aids since the early 80's.

My cochlear implant has restored my hearing, my kidney has restored my health. Life is good.

For more information on cochlear implants, visit www.bionicear.com

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