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.

Letting go and letting him.

The hall is lined with a super warm sleeping bag, a comfy mattress, a bag stuffed full of warm clothes, then a smaller bag that, to me, is the most important of them all – the bag containing Isaac’s Cochlear™ parts and accessories.

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This is the moment that I’d hoped for but am not ready to let happen. This was it, the plan we had as parents. We wanted Isaac to have the same opportunities in life as his three older brothers. The long weekend here in Melbourne hosts the sporting event: “State Youth Games” that my older boys have participated in with not much thought from me. This time is different – but is it?

Isaac is fully independent. He’s able to listen well, assess situations and is part of anything he wishes (all true in my mind). Then I think about the mud, the rain, the games, the … the fact that I’m not with him.

My need to worry is diminished by the Mini Mic and the Aqua+ accessory If it pours with rain (as it tends to do on these camps) Isaac can still participate in the sports without having to be embarrassed by leaving the field. The Mini Mic reassures me that he can be communicated with and hear the calls of the referees and leaders.

So, really what am I concerned about? The fact that my boy is growing up? The fact that he no longer needs me like he used to? I know Cochlear have provided him the very best potential for a wonderful life, and we have skilled him as much as we can as parents, so he can truly live life to the fullest.

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Isaac (middle) with his brothers.

So, it’s a coffee for me, and preparing the laundry for his muddy return and just being grateful that the journey has been all we’d hoped for and worked towards.

Funny, the only concern for Isaac is that he gets the mandatory designer hoodie that comes with those who participate in the events.

So chill out Mum and enjoy the peace of a quiet home for the weekend.

From Mel M.

Melinda V. on coping in the classroom

From Melinda…

I hope this next post gives you some insight into what it’s like being deaf with a Cochlear™ Implant within the school environment so you can become more aware of this amazing technology and how to implement strategies if you are a fellow implantee like me 🙂

I went to mainstream primary and high school during my schooling years, it was a challenge for me, but I am a stronger person for it. I was lucky to have such supportive teachers as well as fantastic itinerant teachers (extra support teachers to assist and improve on any difficulties the person is having within the learning environment – particularly literary such as vocabulary). I couldn’t have completed school without them.

One of my teachers had a profound impact on me, instilling in me that I could be or do anything I wanted in life whether it’s life in general, academically or on the sporting field. She was once nominated for an American Teacher’s Excellence Award before she moved to Australia, so I was super lucky to partner with her from Grade 6 to 12. She taught me to be more assertive in the classroom and advocated for my rights to be able to learn without having underlying barriers such as requesting for the provision of captioned videos/ DVDs. My long-term itinerant teacher has paved the way for my future by instilling confidence and determination into my life so that I can better handle future situations.

In conjunction, throughout my high school years, the Cochlear™ implant technology went through some amazing and ground-breaking changes including downsizing from the speech processor box and ear piece to being just all behind-the-ear! It was pure freedom for us implantees who were now able to participate in sports without risking damage to the processor.

Can you imagine what it was like to lug a small box with wire going to our ear everyday? We weren’t allowed to play contact sports and people would look at us weirdly wondering why we have this wire coming from our pockets or back (I wore mine like a little backpack underneath my uniform/ t-shirt) to our ear! Perhaps they thought it was like a cool new music headphone invention! Or perhaps they thought we were aliens from outer space! But regardless, we were still lucky to be hearing with the speech processor no matter what it looked like at the time!

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The release of the behind-the-ear Nucleus® ESPrit speech processor came at the absolute best time for me – I was in Grade 8 (around 14 years old) where body image and fashion was of utmost importance on any teenage girl’s mind, so I was able to finally go shopping and get some cool dresses without worrying about the bump (speech processor) on my back or the dangling cords! It also gave me better self-esteem and body image to not worry about what people think of my appearance, even better, the behind the ear processor made me feel proud and want to embrace the hearing device more so!

Cochlear Implants, Esprit, Sprint

This current generation of implantees should be proud to wear the new Nucleus® 6 processor with its pretty cool technology including being water proof, better sound quality (they can hear better then me!), eliminating background noises in noisy environments or when talking on the phone or when in group conversations – too good to be true? But wait there’s more… it can also enable us to listen to music on our iPods as loud as possible without making a noise to the outside world (like a sound proof room!) and there’s a hearing loop so we can focus hearing to the radio/ TV/ internet clips/ cinemas/ phone through the use of wireless/ Bluetooth technology.

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Perhaps this might appeal to the hearing population as well?!😆

Sorry to cut this short! But getting back to the real focus now! Here are 3 top tips/ advice for implantees/ teachers/ students or anyone really, on how to cope within the classroom environment (only a few but I’ll add more throughout my future posts):

  •  Be assertive: The only way you are going to learn on an even playing field is by being assertive. Educate and let your teachers know of your hearing impairment – teach them deaf-awareness as you are the only one that knows what you need to enable the best learning environment and engagement in the classroom. For example, there are many teachers that speak with their back to the class while writing on the blackboard/ whiteboard – we need teachers to be facing the class when they talk. Some also mumble quite a bit (especially us Australians – I’m sorry in advance, but many of us are lazy when it comes to using our mouths properly when we talk!), so ensure they are always speaking clearly (doesn’t have to be loudly either as we can hear you perfectly fine – just speak clearer with better use of your mouth when talking! 😁).
  • Peer Groups: Don’t be afraid to ask again or repeat what the conversation was about – we may have difficulties trying to listen in on a convo if we don’t know what it was about initially. But once we know what the topic is about, we are all good! And please – never tell us the 2 dreaded words we hate to hear: ” Never mind” – it’s definitely not cool being told that! This pretty much tells us that we are excluded from the group convo or topic.
  • Make the most of your implant: Implantees – make sure you really know how to make the most of your implant, such as changing the settings for different environments (Nucleus® 6 users, your processors do this automatically) such as background mode for noisy environments, use of hearing loop when watching DVDs in classroom, tuning into speech mode so we can focus our hearing into what the teacher is saying, wear a sweat band when playing contact/ land sports to protect it from contact/ sweat damage, and wear the Aqua-Accessory (or Aqua+ for Nucleus 5 or 6 users) if you have school sports involving water sports.

I will certainly share more tips and advice through my future posts, so stay tuned for the next one!

Hope you enjoyed reading and I hope you’ll also get to know us a bit better from a deaf perspective over these posts 😉😎

Until next time 🙂

Mel

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 …

At school with my Cochlear implant

Having a Cochlear™ implant has allowed me to attend school alongside other students who have normal hearing. Throughout my schooling, I always had special provision to help and improve my learning. I have had a great support network, teachers and students have always been very loyal and helpful.

Cochlear Implants and school

I attended Balgowlah Heights in primary school and Stella Maris College, Manly, in high school. I have always been an active student and got involved in many extracurricular activities. During my primary school years, I performed at the School Spectacular, with a limited number of students, selected from schools across Australia I was involved in P.S.S.A (Primary School Sport Association) and played all kinds of sports including tee-ball, softball, netball and soccer. I went to the state finals for shot-put after placing first place in my year group.

It is quite a flashback thinking of the best times and things I did at Balgowlah Heights. Despite having a FM device, which I wore while my teachers wore a microphone, and having to change my batteries frequently, I was just like all the other students: young, active and always happy. Students in my year were aware that I was deaf and had a Cochlear™ implant, they all respected me and loved that I could lip read their lips without sound coming out of their mouth. They always made sure that I would join in their activities such as Chinese whispers. The person next to me would take me aside away from the group, tell me what had been said, then we would run back into the circle and I would pass on the message.

Isabelle (right) with school friends.
Isabelle (right) with school friends.

In Year 6 when all students were busy writing our favourite memories of primary school for our end of year book, one of the students reminded me of a time in Year 4 when my teacher was wearing the FM device. She left the classroom for a moment with it on, and I caught her shouting at three boys. I immediately told the class which they all loved and found hilarious. I was also a Sports Captain, selected by fellow students.

Year 7 and Year 12 would have to be my favourite years in high school. In year 7 I loved meeting new people from different schools, and learning some French. I felt very grown up having to catch a bus to and from school and to do some independent study for exams. In Year 12, I was appointed as International Prefect. In this role I organised events for exchange students, including the International BBQ and International Night Out. This helped them to settle in and to have a great time. I spoke in front of the school on Harmony Day discussing differences. I shared my story and explained that I am profoundly deaf and have a Cochlear implant.

Cochlear Implants, Art

I studied Visual Arts throughout high school. In my final year, I was required to create a major artwork. I painted three large abstract paintings using acrylic oil paint and impasto gel to create thick lines and texture. I painted three different sound waves and used different colours to represent the progress of my hearing over the past few years. The first painting to the left consist of different tones of blues representing unclear hearing, I added more colours in the next two painting to show that over the years as technology improved, so did my hearing. I love visual arts and how everything has a meaning behind it. I was lucky enough to have my major artwork selected to be displayed in the Express Yourself Exhibition in Manly.

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.