Cochlear Implant Journey

My cochlear implant journey all started with the question:

“If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?”

After some thought, I came up with an answer of, “Get a cochlear implant?”

Turns out my deepest desire was also my deepest fear.

The Prequel of the Cochlear Implant Journey…

In my early academic days I took some accounting, interior decorating, and astronomy classes and knew that I had no idea what I wanted to do for my career. I took a child development class, which touched on language development. This led me to think about being a deaf and hard of hearing teacher. Why not work with those that are like me? I can help them live a life successfully with my personal experience and knowledge!

I went to visit the John Tracy Center in Los Angeles where they have an auditory/oral school for the deaf. They showed me around the different classrooms with all the cute deaf children talking and listening with their hearing devices. Then they introduced me to the Audiologist. What’s that feeling? You know, that gut feeling when something feels…so right? It was decided right then and there I would apply for audiology programs.

The Introduction to the Cochlear Implant

I was accepted to San Diego State University’s (Go Aztecs!) program, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Cochlear implants were first introduced in my undergraduate days, but never once did it cross my mind that I would be a candidate for something like that. The implant was for people who couldn’t hear at all. It was the “miracle implant”. I do just fine with my hearing aids!

After graduating from San Diego State University (Go Aztecs!) with my Bachelors in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences I accepted a job at HearX as an audiology assistant. I knew I wanted to work with children, so I began volunteering at the House CARE Center one day a week.

My career path and personal path slowly became one. I began to learn more and gain experience through volunteering at the House Research Institute where the OG himself resided, Dr. William House. The House CARE Center introduced me to the world of cochlear implant technology in children. From then on, I knew working with children with hearing loss was what I was meant to do. If you would like to learn more about my hearing loss journey, click here.

Have You Thought About Getting A Cochlear Implant?

I was accepted to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I met the people who are partially responsible for changing my life and giving me the opportunity to accomplish my dreams.

My first academic advising session was with a (fabulous) audiologist who wore a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. After a casual conversation of how I liked North Carolina and how the transition was going, she asked, “Have you ever thought about getting a cochlear implant?”. My immediate response was a blushed, “No”.

Do I need A Cochlear Implant?

No, I never thought of getting an implant – no I didn’t think I needed an implant – no because I do just fine with my hearing aids! See my notes on how to be confident with hearing loss for more.

I left that session feeling somewhat uncomfortable. I knew the conversation was coming from a good place and that I didn’t understand how much information I was missing/not hearing.

The months trickled on and the material became more difficult. I used my FM system, note-taker(s), and my roommate to help me study and understand the intense material (see my blog post about mastering college and graduate school with hearing loss). I was struggling to keep up! Over time classmates and professors began to point out the things I was missing.

I was meeting new people everyday during my clinical rotations. Their voices were unfamiliar and sometimes difficult to understand (southern accents). I especially struggle with soft male voices. I would read their lips to be sure I understood everything they said. If my back was turned I did not hear what was said 50-80% of the time. I was struggling and exhausted at the end of each day.

Another Audiologist Brings the Cochlear Implant up…

During my third year, I began working as an assistant for the CCCDP (pediatric cochlear implant center) and my boss never missed a chance to introduce the idea of getting a cochlear implant. She would slyly find a way to remind me that a cochlear implant could help me. She too was coming from the goodness of her heart. To get people to stop asking I eventually said I would get one in 5 years – possibly when I have kids.

Fourth Year Externship – Next Chapter

When studying Audiology, most programs complete academic courses and clinical rotations in the first three years of the program. Then during the fourth year you apply for a one year externship. I returned to my roots at the House CARE Center. My chance to have my very own patients and caseload excited me! I felt ready to learn and grow.

Unfortunately, due to unfortunate circumstances, likely from the 2008 economy crash, the center closed and we had to jump ship. The audiologists moved to USC and developed a brand new pediatric audiology clinic – we (the externs) went with.

There was a period of time where things were slow and we had a lot of time to think and create. During this time people were inquiring about my thoughts on getting a cochlear implant. I decided the timing couldn’t be more perfect. I had an amazing support group and one of the best surgeons in the nation at my disposal. Why would I wait until I have kids? The time is now or as some would say, “there is no time like the present!” I decided to go for it.

The Beginning of the Cochlear Implant Journey

I recorded videos of myself during the process and looking back on them I look surprisingly calm, but I knew internally I was very nervous. Though I knew everything would be okay, I was mostly afraid of the surgery and the risks involved. I reminded myself the benefits would outweigh the risks. I had to stop asking “what if it goes wrong?” and ask “what if everything goes well?” and trust that everything would work out.

On February 20, 2014, I had the cochlear implant surgery for my left ear and 3 weeks later on March 13, 2014 I had my initial activation. I had low expectations for my activation. I knew things would sound funny and I would hear beeps and whistles before I could hear speech. Initially it sounded like a video game, just lots of beeps and whistles. Later that day, I went back in and made a parameter change and I was able to understand speech! The audiologist had three sentences written down on a piece of paper and with her mouth covered I was able to pick the correct sentence!

I put a lot of work into the auditory verbal therapy portion and wore my implant alone as often as I could to ensure that I would get the most benefit out of the device. Lots of practice listening to family members, using Audible (books on tape), and listening to NPR on the radio.

I can tell you all today that after five years of listening with my cochlear implant, I went from 20% word understanding to 88% word understanding! Friends and family comment on my improved performance. They say I respond a little quicker, I can understand them from another room, and I don’t always have to rely on speech reading! I use the cochlear implant side to talk on the phone, especially if there is background noise. I love listening to the birds chirp. Cooking is now a little easier since I can hear the sizzling noises crucial for not burning things!

The Journey Does Not End Here

In Conclusion, the cochlear implant has given me so many opportunities on so many different levels and I truly cannot wait to see what this crazy journey has in store for the future. I hope to share my journey to inspire others. Fear is a crippling thing and can get in the way of a great opportunity. I hope you can use this experience to move yourself in a way you never thought possible. Thank you to all of my supporters and superHEARos. You know who you are! #YouCIcan

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