Michael travels the world in sound

Your son, Michael, will never be able to hear, speak, or do the things a normal hearing person would do,” my parents were told. I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf at the age of fifteen months. My world seemed as if it had come to a narrow passage with very limited opportunities. However, it was the beginning of something unforeseen and beyond normal. All future dreams and visions seemed shattered, but they were actually expanding to a whole new dimension a normal-hearing person would never experience.
I was the first child to receive the Cochlear™ Nucleus® 22 Implant in Dallas, Texas, USA at the age of two in 1991, and since then I have thrived in the hearing world thanks to a team of family members, audiologists, auditory-verbal therapists, and Cochlear. I have upgraded multiple times over the years. With each upgrade, I experienced new sounds and adventures. Cochlear technology enabled me to push myself to do more such as appreciate music, talk on the phone, make the high honor roll in school, graduate college, travel, kick start my career, and receive an MBA.
I will celebrate my 25 year anniversary with the Nucleus 22 Implant in June. It has been an incredible journey filled with many “a-ha” and “wow” moments. The very first sound processor I had was the Mini Speech Processor (MSP). It was considered “mini” because the previous generation sound processor (Wearable Speech Processor) was rather quite large by today’s standards. It had a bodyworn processor that rested on my hip and connected to a behind-the-ear microphone via a long cord that ran up from the waist to the ear. The behind-the-ear microphone was about the size of what the Nucleus 6 Sound Processor is today. Isn’t it amazing how far we have come? It took something as big as the size of today’s sound processor just for the microphone back in the day! I used this speech processor during my toddler years. It helped me discover the world of sound and begin my journey to listen and talk.
After the Mini Speech Processor, I upgraded to the Spectra 22 Speech Processor. It comprised of a bodyworn processor connecting to a behind-the-ear microphone via a long cord very much like the Mini Speech Processor. It was tough and withstood many of my crazy shenanigans as a young boy such as completely dropping my Spectra 22 Speech Processor in a Colorado mountain river, and it still worked! I had this speech processor the longest; it very much became a big part of my life. I depended on it, and it supported me like no other technological device. In a way, I grew up with this speech processor.
Right before I entered high school, I upgraded to one of my favorite sound processors, the ESPrit™ 3G Sound Processor. It was completely behind-the-ear, the first of its kind I got to experience. Long gone were the days of struggling to tuck in my shirt because the long cord that attached my behind-the-ear microphone to the bodyworn processor was placed underneath my shirt. This sound processor was much more discreet, which served me well as I was a bit more vain going into high school. I used this sound processor for seven years. It gave me so much more comfort and flexibility throughout my high school and college years. I could not have made it as well as I did without this high-performing sound processor.
Shortly after I started working for Cochlear in 2010, I was still using my ESPrit 3G Sound Processor. I loved this sound processor and felt no desire to upgrade. Plus, I was a bit nervous about the upgrade as I heard that it might be a challenging upgrade. Little did I know what I had in store. After much encouragement from my mentor and work leader, René, I tried the Freedom® Sound Processor upgrade. I couldn’t believe how well I could hear with this upgrade from the get-go and how many new sounds I could hear with it. It was like I had a hearing loss with my previous sound processor, and all of a sudden, I could hear so much more with the Freedom Sound Processor. The upgrade was nowhere near challenging to which to transition; I had absolutely nothing to worry about this upgrade. This sound processor was the first all digital sound processor with which I ever heard. My previous sound processors used analog processing technology. I could not believe the sounds I was picking up with this new sound processor. For example, I always could always subtly hear the fizzing out of a soda pop can with my previous sound processors. With the Freedom upgrade, I couldn’t believe how loud the fizzing was after opening the can. Not only that, the fizzing continued for many minutes afterwards–I had no idea! So I learned an important lesson here: Do not be afraid of upgrades as they bring about very exciting, new sounds and experiences.
Fast forward nearly five years, the Nucleus 6 for Nucleus 22 launched. Naturally, I had to upgrade to this sound processor immediately. One particular area that I struggled in was hearing in noisy environments. I got an all-new noise program with my Nucleus 6 Sound Processor, and I could not believe how well I could hear in noisy environments. Instantly, my confidence to join a lunch meeting or a dinner in a noisy café or restaurant skyrocketed. I no longer felt the sense of dread when I received an invitation.
Just recently, for the first time in my entire life, I heard in water with the Cochlear Nucleus Aqua+. Growing up, anytime I jumped into the pool, took swimming lessons, or vacationed at the beach, I always had to remove my external sound processor and returned to a silent world. Currently, I am doing a secondment at the global Cochlear headquarters in Sydney, Australia. One weekend, I took surfing lessons for the first time and used the Aqua+. I could hear the instructor who was behind me; this would have never happened had I not had the Aqua+. It was remarkable to hear the waves crashing and the birds chirping from above–all while in the water! This is something that I really wish I had growing up, but I am even more thankful to have it now.
One other thing that I treasure in my life is the gift of hearing music. There are very few things that I appreciate more than music. With the Nucleus 6 upgrade, I got the Cochlear Wireless Phone Clip and the Remote Assistant. The music is so clear through the Phone Clip. Best of all, there are no wires. I spend many hours cranking out reports and presentations at my desk. I simply place the Phone Clip next to my keyboard and jam to music all day long. It is pure bliss! When I am traveling, it can be awfully noisy on the plane. So I whip out my Remote Assistant, and I adjust the mixing ratio so that I can completely eliminate sound coming through the microphones and completely focus on the sounds streaming through the Phone Clip. It is like having the world’s best noise-cancelling headphones. Last but not least, the Nucleus 6 Sound Processor is the most comfortable and discreet sound processor I have ever owned. It is incredible.
After receiving the Cochlear Graeme Clark Scholarship, I worked as a summer marketing intern with Cochlear Americas based in Centennial, CO, USA, the very company responsible for enabling me to grow up in a world of sound. I am now a Marketing Manager where I have the honor and privilege to manage Nucleus Sound Processor upgrades, recipient communications and Cochlear Celebration events.

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 …