On the road to the Paralympics

Hi, my name is Amanda Cameron and I have just celebrated 15 years with my first Cochlear™ implant. My second one is 5 1/2 years old and I love them both, I don’t know where I would be today without them.

I was born profoundly deaf, I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome type 1 when I was a bit older, which means deafness and retinitis pigmentosa (slowly deteriorating vision). At the moment I have 20 degrees vision and it’s basically no peripheral vision and I see through a tunnel.

I got my first implant when I was 11. I remember the day of switch-on and it wasn’t a particularly happy day for me. I thought everything sounded awful and it was just a whole lot of beeping and everything sounding the same. However, the first morning with my processor on, I kept hearing these really annoying consistent sounds so I grumpily asked my parents “What is that noise?” They were really amazed and told me it was birds singing which I had never heard before.

It probably took a good few weeks to adjust to the new sounds but after then I was back to normal routine, except with better hearing. I went to mainstream school, continued in my ballet and occasionally went back up to the hearing clinic for re-mapping. It wasn’t always easy but it does get quicker and you learn lots – what used to be an hour and half session with the audiologist now only takes 20 minutes.

I finished school and made the big move down to Wellington to study Architecture. A few years later, I decided I wanted a second implant, reason being I wanted to hear more especially with my deteriorating vision. I thought one was great, but I wanted to be more independent and secure because I have no idea what the future holds for me. I was very fortunate to be able to go private this time, and went for a second implant.

The second time around wasn’t as easy, as I was transiting from no hearing to an implant, whereas the first time around, I wore hearing aids right up to the surgery. It’s still not as great as the first one but I have noticed a definite improvement in having two implants. I wouldn’t change it for anything now!

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I am even representing NZ in sport, and it wouldn’t be the case without my Cochlear™ implants. I race on a tandem bike under the blind/vision impaired category, with a sighted pilot, and communication between the pilot and myself (the stoker) is paramount for good results in training and racing.

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I was never very sporty growing up even though I was always involved in something, I did ballet for 10 years when I was young. I played team sport including netball, soccer, tennis and badminton before I gave it up due to lack of peripheral vision and then I just kept fit by running and occasionally swimming and gym work.

It wasn’t till nearly 2 years ago when I was watching Attitude TV (a documentary series every Sunday morning featuring disabled people and their lives) when I became really inspired by other disabled people in sport, one striking me in particular. That was Mary Fisher, a blind swimmer and a world champion.

It made me crave a challenge and something I could do for myself. I got in contact with Paralympics NZ, who introduced me to tandem cycling. At first I scoffed at the idea and thought the idea of me cycling was ridiculous. But I had asked for a challenge and I am not one to give up so here we go.

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I began a training programme, attended a camp and began competing nationally and internationally. I am not a natural at my sport or the best, but I train and work hard and today I’m in the Academy Squad. My pilot, Hannah and I are currently striving for Podium Squad as we continue our journey to Rio 2016.

Isaac’s ‘Silent Night’ turns around

So, who am I? Why am I so keen to tell the world about how a Cochlear™ Implant has changed what my family’s life could have been?

Let me tell you: I am Mel, a mum of four boys, all of them so beautiful and a gift to the world in their own ways.

My youngest son is profoundly deaf and that is where this story begins.

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Back in 2002, our family was completed with the arrival of our Isaac. He was perfect. He looked so much just like my other three sons. There was nothing spectacular about his arrival apart from the surprise of a fourth boy. He was a quieter baby, who wanted more cuddles and seemed to settle far more being with me, which I totally adored.

In this stage of our lives we owned a ’fine dining’ restaurant.  It was a noisy environment.  Two kitchens, five chefs and plenty of floor staff making it a busy place. There were no quiet spot in the building for a newborn baby.

Isaac slept while many loud bangs and crashes surrounded him. They should have disturbed him whilst he slept, but didn’t. Deep inside I knew there was something wrong, even after our health centre nurse had assured me Isaac was fine, just different to my other babies. I had that nagging feeling that haunted me.

A loud suction snapped off as I pulled the ducted vacuum hose off the port. It was so loud it startled me, but my precious little boy stayed sound asleep right beside me. That nagging feeling had surfaced to a point of truth for me in that moment.

Christmas Eve 2002 will stay embedded in my mind and heart forever. I can still feel those emotions well up when I think about that day. The sounds of Christmas carols wafted over the room as I nervously sat with my mother, and my baby son on my knee in a small waiting room in a nearby audiology clinic. In the testing room puppets turned in an abstract box as each beep sound filled the room. Louder and louder they got. My mum and I were given headphones to protect our hearing, my baby wasn’t. He was not bothered by the noises at all. A growing discomfort sat in my gut. I wanted to run and not face what I’d feared to be true. And it was confirmed. “Your son is profoundly deaf, he may need a cochlear implant”. The audiologist stated it in a monotone voice as if it was just a fact. He then dismissed himself, pointed to the reception desk and left for the office festive celebrations to finish off his day. Merry Christmas!

What is Christmas? In a nut-shell it’s noise, it’s songs, it’s family laughing over silly bon bon jokes – none  of that audible at all to my 7 month old baby. I wanted to scream to the world that it was indeed truly a ’Silent Night’ for us.

It was my worst Christmas ever! This is the time of year I’d normally anticipate for weeks ahead with child-like delight. I’d wake up early to beat the children, drinking the milk and eating the cookies left for Santa. I’d play ever so loudly The Wiggles’ ’Santa Claus is coming’ just to excite them and see their faces glow with pure joy.Not so that year.

February 2004, after much testing and a deep desire to have our child implanted, Isaac was given a date for his operation. He was the first to be implanted at the Royal  Children’s Hospital Melbourne. The wheels of life were about to turn.

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It was a beautiful warm, sunny day, fitting for the excitement we felt. The time had come with mixed emotions of anticipation and nerves. We placed a stuffed toy horse in Isaac’s arms as he was wheeled into the stark white operating theatre, the last attempt to make Isaac feel comforted.

“He’ll be ok. He’s in good hands,” I repeated to myself as the seemingly oversized doors closed and blocked the view to my baby being wheeled away.  He had so many in that room with him; doctors, nurses, surgeons. Being the first implanted at that hospital had attracted quite a following. The operation took over three hours. I can tell you there were plenty of cups of coffee drunk in that time. It felt like the longest wait ever!

Two weeks later, again I found myself in a familiar setting; in a room with puppets in abstract boxes.  This time it was a toucan swinging around as the beeps were presented. This time Isaac could hear them! This time it was a room of hope as I watched my little man’s face light up with delight. He could hear the same level as I could! he smiled, he giggled at each new beep, he loved to hear and wanted more and more. The Cochlear implant that sat on his little ear was the gift to his future, of sounds, of words. It was a gift of love to my boy. This time it was tears of overwhelming joy and thankfulness, not despair and shock!

Over the next six months Isaac learnt to speak over 100 words. He even said “mum” – my favourite word of all. He was growing and becoming so confident in his responses to others. Learning sound through him was amazing. It made me look at life in a new and simple way. Each sound had a place, a feeling and a reason. I’m thankful for that chance to discover life in language with Isaac.

Looking back at the contrast in emotions, I can honestly say my joy hasn’t wavered since the switch-on day. We dared to dream and hope. We strived to give Isaac the same in life as our other three sons. We were never let down.

Isaac is now 13 and attends a private school in Melbourne (he is in year 7). Both his primary and secondary education were/are in a non-hearing unit setting. He has caught up and exceeded the expectations of not only us, his parents, but also those of the schooling system. He’s addressed politicians, achieved high grades, sung at events, been in gifted programs, learnt musical instruments – but  most of all, he can communicate with anyone he chooses to and has choices in his life which were not possible before his implant.

Issac has achieved so much in his short life so far. Join me on our journey of Isaac’s little gains and big wins, each steps in life which are great gains.

As you can see I’m just a proud mum …

An unexpected hearing journey… by Lance Cairns

Meet Lance Cairns – Former New Zealand Cricketer

Lance Cairns w sibling Isla and Aaron_ Hearing House clients _ Photo Moira Blincoe
Lance Cairns with siblings Isla and Aaron – Hearing House clients. Photo Moira Blincoe

I am the second eldest of five boys raised by a single mum in the ‘50s in Picton, a small town at the top of the south island, later well known as the berth for the inter island ferries.

I had no issues with hearing growing up, the best indicator of this would be my school work in primary school. I did very well learning wise.

High school was in Blenheim which meant a train trip of 40-50 minutes leaving the station at 8am, this meant I had a walk of nearly 2 miles to catch the train every morning. I ended up wagging more than attending and became very good at forging mum’s signature on the absentee notes!

Sport was always there and rest assured I was on hand when the Firsts had a game on.

I was making a name for myself in those early days in a couple of sports, hockey and cricket. Hockey and cricket were played on the same ground and this was about 100 yards from home. Played rep hockey for the men’s team at the age of 13 and for the top cricket team at the age of 15.

The day I turned 15 it was goodbye to school. Family wise it was always a big struggle financially so if I could earn a wage that was what I was going to do as soon as possible. It was off to the freezing works which, along with the railways solved Picton’s employment issues. After a couple of years work mum noticed that I was asking her to repeat herself too often but nothing was done at this time.

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The big one that made me realise there was a problem was at the age of 23, when I had just made the New Zealand cricket team, Lindsay Yeo from the 2ZB radio station in Wellington wanted me to take part in a live quiz, which was to be done by telephone. This freaked me out, being live on air and realising I could stuff it up by not hearing what the questions were. I got through it, but it highlighted that I needed to say goodbye to the telephone.

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A fact here is that my son Christopher and I had our first chat on a telephone when he was 40. The first thing he wanted to do when I came out of theatre after being implanted was to give me a ring, but I told him a little patience was required. He made sure he was the first to call when I was finally turned on.

My hearing loss could be traced to those early days in the works. Beside me where I worked they washed the carcases by hose and the water was forced out of the hose by air pressure creating a loud hissing noise. Ear muffs were not heard of in those days.

To be continued.

Graeme Clark Scholarship winner, Isabelle shares…

I am Isabelle Stanley, 21 years of age, I was implanted with a Cochlear™ implant at the age of 18 months, after discovering that I am profoundly deaf. I am very excited to share my story and some Cochlear experiences with you.

Being deaf and having a cochlear implant is something that I am proud of, it is what makes me unique and different from everyone. It has opened up a whole world for me. Without a cochlear implant I would not be able to do many of the things in life I enjoy: listening to music, dancing or traveling the world. I will explain more about my hobbies and aspirations in greater detail in the next blog posts.

Currently I’m on a bus in the USA travelling from New Orleans to Savannah writing this blog post. I have my family and friends to thank for being independent and capable of doing things on my own, as they have helped me feel confident with myself.
I would like to consider myself as a very social person. I am very goal driven and continue to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. I have had many part-time jobs such as nannying and sale assistants, to finance my travels overseas as well as my love for shopping and dining out.

I will be completing my Bachelor of Business at the end of this year at the University of Technology, Sydney, majoring in Marketing. In 2014, I applied for the Graeme Clarke Scholarship and was lucky enough to be awarded the scholarship! Not only will it help support my degree, it is a well-recognized award, which I am honored to be granted. I was featured in the Manly Daily acknowledging my achievement. I also received a letter from the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott who saw my article and congratulated me!

My family recently converted all our family videotapes into a file, they discovered my switch on video where I hear for the first time. Here is the video:

I can not help myself but watch it over and over again, I am so glad that such a significant moment in my life has been captured. It makes me appreciate having a Cochlear implant as it has given me a lot of opportunities to do things like a fully hearing person.

Without a Cochlear implant, my life would be silent, which is very hard to imagine as my life is currently full of colour, music, sounds, laughter and much more.

Meeting Melinda

Cochlear Implant Triathlete
Melinda Vernon

My name is Melinda Vernon, and my Cochlear™ Implant has been my right ear’s best friend for 20 plus years and I don’t think they will be parting anytime soon!

This post will be the first of many posts to come, where I can share experiences of life with a Cochlear Implant, and tips/ advice that I can impart to fellow implantees or those interested in being an implantee sometime down the track. I hope these future posts will enable some feedback, discussion, identification of similar experiences , inspire, motivate or provide some fun entertainment 😉

Firstly, I’d like to introduce myself before I get to some serious experience-sharing business!

I have been involved in sport all my life – the competitiveness and physicality of it – is just in my blood! I was previously a distance runner for the past 12 years representing Australia at the past 2 Deaflympics for the 5000m/ 10,000m double, being a current world record holder for the respective events, competed at many mainstream World Championship Cross Country events. But my most noted running achievement to date was winning the 2009 Sydney City2Surf. I switched to triathlon 2 years ago and have not looked back, rising in the international rankings from 300 and something to going within the top 100 by the end of the 2014!

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I have intentions to represent Australia at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and have recently been earmarked as a potential Olympic hopeful, being named in the Australian Shadow Olympic squad. The next year will be a tactical one – training and planning specifically for the races and having great performances, could put me in a prime position to be selected for the team. On the side, I have an Occupational Therapy degree, and have worked on and off over the past few years, but professional triathlon has been my main focus especially in the lead up to the Olympic year.

I hope you will follow me on my journey to get to Rio, as well as joining me on my experience-sharing posts regarding life with a Cochlear Implant.

My next post will follow soon! Check back soon 🙂