At Cochlear, we love revisiting with our recipients to learn updates about how they are progressing in their journey with cochlear implants. It was exciting learning about the myriad of accomplishments that Chekesha “Kay” Ellis has completed in the 3 years since we last heard from her. Learn about her story and progress below:


Renowned motivational speaker and author Chekesha “Kay” Ellis confronted a life-altering experience 14 years ago when she lost her hearing due to an opioid addiction. Since then, she has fearlessly shared her compelling journey of recovery and the profound impact of the Cochlear™ Kanso® Sound Processor.

Through her unwavering determination, Ellis has not only transformed her ability to communicate effectively but has also inspired countless individuals worldwide. As we revisit her story, we gain insight into her ongoing journey and the remarkable impact she continues to make in the lives of others.

Chekesha, who has lived with hearing loss from addiction, shown smiling for a photo in a giant elegant blue chair. Chekesha’s Hearing Journey

In 2009, Kay received a stark awakening when a doctor told her that her growing addiction to Lorcet-Hydrocodone was causing her to go deaf. What started as a simple prescription had turned into a consuming habit. She resorted to doctor shopping and pharmacy hopping, visiting nearly 60 doctors over nine years to feed her addiction.

A striking parallel to the plot of movie Catch Me If You Can (2002), Kay’s evasive maneuvers echoed the daring escapades of the film’s protagonist, allowing her to elude the grasp of the law.

Her addiction also led to a rapid loss of hearing, which puzzled audiologists. With no family history of hearing loss and denying any drug use, Kay was fitted with hearing aids. The aids provided relief for approximately three months. However, one fateful day, she awoke to an eerie silence that enveloped her surroundings. As she moved through her home, attempting to elicit familiar sounds, the absence of any auditory response only deepened the gravity of her situation. Her life underwent an abrupt transformation as her world gradually descended into complete silence over an eight-month period. She had never anticipated the day when she would become completely deaf.

Between 2009 and 2013, Kay faced the daunting challenge of transitioning from a hearing person to a state of total deafness. Despite her ardent hope for a miraculous recovery, she grappled with the practical difficulties of living without hearing. Attempting to read lips proved to be more challenging than anticipated, and her reluctance to learn sign language stemmed from her enduring optimism for a potential return of her hearing.



Kay, who experienced hearing loss from addiction, shown with her fingers laced with her child's on stage, after completing her TEDx Speech. Two Revolutionary Life Changes

Struggling to navigate a world that often doubted her deafness due to her articulate speech, she continued to persevere in her daily activities, including driving, which eventually led to obtaining a disabled placard for parking. Amidst these struggles, Kay also experienced the profound emotional journey of becoming a mother, with her firstborn arriving prematurely in 2012, spending six months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

It was during this tumultuous period that she learned about cochlear implants from a doctor, setting her on apath of exploration and ultimately leading to her decision to undergo the revolutionary procedure. Following a challenging approval process and a significant distance to travel for treatment, Kay underwent her first implant procedure in November 2013. She started with the Nucleus® 6 Sound Processor. The significant moment of hearing her 2-year-old baby boy’s voice for the first time signaled the start of a new stage in her life.

Known for her deep passion for music, Kay’s love for the sounds of the 70s, 80s, and 90s ran deep. Yet, during the years of profound deafness, the absence of music plunged her into a state of deep depression. However, following the initial tuning of her right cochlear implant, the miraculous transition from hearing beeps to voices and eventually, the sweet melodies of music again marked a turning point in her life.

Despite audiologists’ warnings about the complexities of recognizing music, Chekesha defied the odds, gradually regaining her ability to appreciate the diverse nuances of sound. As she reclaimed her auditory world, she also embarked on a journey of personal and professional growth, recognizing that her hearing potential as a public speaker was yet to be fully realized.

Kay, who experienced hearing loss from addiction, posing in an elegant ivory dress on a leaf-filled sidewalk, for a professional photo.
Photography captured by Steven Robinson.

Bilateral Hearing Loss – Bilateral Cochlear Implants

In 2016, she underwent a left cochlear implant procedure, making the transition to the Kanso Sound Processor. Embracing her new lease on sound, she re-entered the classroom as a teaching assistant to pre-K students, captivating them with her real-life “bionic woman” story and allowing them to experience her processors firsthand.

In a testament to her unwavering journey of resilience and redemption, Chekesha’s continued pursuit of growth and impact has been nothing short of extraordinary. Embracing the advancements in technology, she upgraded her sound processor to the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor (a behind-the-ear device), seamlessly transitioning between the Kanso Sound Processor (an off-the-ear device) depending on her hairstyle.



Chekesha’s presence resonated with audiences far and wide. Her extraordinary journey propelled her into a keynote plenary speaker position for the inaugural Deaf and Hard of Hearing Webinar hosted by the Division of Maryland Department of Health Behavioral Health Administration, establishing her as an inspirational figure and a symbol of empowerment for numerous individuals. The entire panel consisted of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, and she was the sole panelist with cochlear implants.

Kay’s journey toward regaining her ability to hear was driven by a purpose that transcended personal experience. As a fervent national activist, she passionately champions the cause of recovery, lending her voice to advocate for individuals grappling with substance use disorder, mental health challenges, and those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Her decision to undergo cochlear implant surgery was not solely motivated by her own needs but fueled by a relentless commitment to empower and support others.

Holding the distinction of a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS), Kay is currently in the process of obtaining her National Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist (NCPRSS) certification, further solidifying her dedication to serving and uplifting communities in need.

If you are experiencing hearing loss like Kay, cochlear implants may help you reclaim your auditory experiences. Discover this new technology today.

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Jesse Griego
Jesse Griego is the Social Media Specialist at Cochlear Americas. Jesse finds inspiration daily in the resiliency of our recipients and their hearing journeys. Jesse was born and raised in Colorado and in his free time enjoys being a wrestling and lacrosse coach, playing guitar and being with his hound dog.