Stephanie G. lost her hearing in her mid-20s, and for years, she missed so much of her life. She was missing her young children’s important milestones, she feared going back to work, and she avoided so many social situations. When she finally decided to look into a cochlear implant, she was in luck because the Cochlear™ Nucleus® Hybrid™ Implant System* had just come on the market and was the perfect solution for her high-frequency hearing loss:
“We do not know when I lost my hearing. I was in my mid-20s when a colleague suggested (begged) that I see her friend who is an audiologist. I finally agreed, and initially, my reaction was ‘thank GOODNESS I’m not making this up!’
For years I struggled with conversations in groups, with the phone (only using it on one ear, not the other), not hearing well in a car, not knowing the lyrics to songs, saying ‘what?,’ ‘pardon?’ and ‘can you repeat that?’ until I was blue in the face. A night out with friends always ended in a headache for me, as I had to work so hard to concentrate and hear the conversation, especially with any background noise.
Once reality set in, then what? My loss is ski slope and asymmetrical. I agreed to ONE completely in canal (CIC) hearing aid, which could not be seen. I was in my twenties…vanity had a big part to play. I lived well and heard better and went on like that for a few years. Eventually I received a second hearing aid for the other ear. Much better hearing at this point.
Then, as is so common, my hearing aids didn’t seem to be helping so much. My ENT suggested that within a few years I would need at least one cochlear implant. What?! I was horrified. I wasn’t DEAF, I could hear! It wasn’t so bad, was it? Yes, I still had to look right at someone to hear. Yes, I still didn’t know any lyrics. Yes, crowds made conversations pointless.
At the time I was a stay at home mom to my two young kids and could not understand what they said (while others could…breaking my heart). I did freelance work from home, work that kept me off the phone, off conference calls, out of conference rooms. We had discussed the idea of me working again in an office, but the anxiety of not being able to hear well and succeed in an office job was just too much. However, a surgery? And an implant? No way. I think I was in denial.
We don’t know how I lost my hearing. Although not discovered until my twenties, we assumed that it happened when I took an ototoxic drug, gentamycin, when I was 15 for a staph infection. At that time, however, they did not test before and after administering that medication, so I had no idea that hearing loss was even on the table. That my loss is asymmetrical is also unusual in the application of that drug. Because I continued to lose hearing, and because the loss between each ear was not the same, we assume there is also a genetic component, or that I was highly sensitive to gentamycin.
Regardless, my hearing was going, and I needed to face those facts. I used to tell people that I was ‘hard of hearing.’ Part of my journey to my implant was accepting that, sure, I am hard of hearing, but I am also hearing impaired. Considered deaf in many circles. I have a handicap. Understanding that was half the battle to accepting the need for further intervention.
About a year after my ENT suggested I get a cochlear implant, I began to look into it in earnest. By this time, the Hybrid Implant System was just becoming available, following successful clinical trials. My audiologist thought I would be a perfect candidate, as my low-frequency hearing is good; it is within the normal range.
I wanted to talk to someone with the Hybrid device. There were very few of us back then! But Cochlear Americas put me in touch with the most wonderful woman, Ellen DeVoss. She answered every question, no matter how big or small, and gave me detail upon detail about what to expect, from surgery to activation to sound quality and more.
Upon making the final decision, the most important person in my journey became my husband. His unwavering support to help me was amazing. I could not have done this without him. So, we did testing, sent information to insurance, and while I was prepared for a very long journey in getting approved, it all happened very fast and I had a surgery date: November 2014.
My recovery was typical. I was activated three weeks later in a room full of journalists as my Hybrid implant was the first done in my region (St. Louis, Mo.). My journey, now over two years since activation, has been interesting. I struggled for several months in the beginning. I had a car accident that also set back my recovery. I shed tears, I sought help, and I helped create a Facebook page, Hybrid Haven: A Hybrid Cochlear Implant Forum. This page now has almost 200 people, all looking for answers, seeking advice, seeking and giving support, and filled with people hoping to improve their lives through better hearing.
With all my struggles, I never once thought that maybe I should not have had the procedure. I LOVE my implant. My book club is enjoyable once again. I used to leave there in tears, with a headache, because it was just too hard to follow the conversations. Not any more! My kids…oh, how nice it is to hear what they are saying! When they were littler, and not the best speakers, strangers would identify words they were saying, NEW words, that I couldn’t hear. Their own mama was missing important milestones! No more.
Perhaps the biggest thing to happen to me is my confidence. I feel so much more secure in my hearing. This past fall, I re-entered the working world with a part-time job in an office. I use the phone, I attend large meetings, and guess what? I’m nailing it.
I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. They have made me who I am. I hope to continue to learn, advise and support others through Hybrid Haven. I hope to be a mentor to others the way Ellen was to me. I hope to expand my Cochlear family as their support means the world to me.
And where do I go from here? I know there is still room for improvement with my hearing. I’ve taken control of my hearing journey and will continue to work with my audiologist for improvement. It can only get better from here!”