Chekesha “Kay” Ellis lost her hearing over 10 years ago due to an opioid addiction. The bestselling author and motivational speaker has since shared her inspiring story of recovery and how the Cochlear™ Kanso® Sound Processor has shaped her hearing journey with her child and the world:


“I’m a woman in sustained long-term recovery for over 10 years from an addiction to painkillers. One year prior to finding my pathway to recovery from an addiction that began when I was prescribed painkillers for a knee injury, I began to lose my hearing in 2009. I lost my hearing over the course of eight months. What started as ringing and muffling sounds in my ear, turned out to be a gradual loss and could have been happening before I even realized it. I had to learn to live as a deaf and hard-of-hearing person.

Discovery that hearing aids were not enough

Kay, who lost her hearing due to addiction, with her cochlear implantIn 2010, I began visiting audiologists. I used hearing aids for a time, before waking up one morning and not being able to hear at all. My hearing aids had stopped benefitting me because my hearing was so far gone. A doctor told me that my hearing loss was associated with my opioid abuse and that ‘the delicate structures of the inner ear are very susceptible to injury if oxygen supply is insufficient.’ I lost hope that I’d ever hear again. No doctors could give me an answer until I became a first-time mother at age 40.

I had my first child at 24 weeks gestation in the back of an ambulance. I was deaf with no hearing assistance at the time. I didn’t know sign language, and I had a hard time reading lips. My real test would come while having a premature baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for six months. He weighed one pound 10 ounces at birth. When he entered the NICU, the respiratory therapist, doctors and nurses had to help me figure out how they could translate my baby’s medical information to me, it was too much to write on paper. They created a program through Skype1 and I was able to read the words that they spoke through a microphone which showed up on a computer screen. One of my son’s doctors asked me if had I heard of cochlear implants. I said, ‘No I haven’t.’

Determining cochlear implant candidacy

Kay, who lost hearing due to addiction, with her Kanso Sound ProcessorThe next chapter of my life began when I had to locate an audiologist that accepted my insurance to see if I was a candidate for this procedure. I found an audiologist 61 miles from my home. I went through an extensive process but passed every hearing test to confirm I was a candidate for cochlear implants. I loved my doctor and new audiologist right away. They were very passionate about wanting me to hear my baby’s voice for the first time.

I received information on Cochlear brand products and even met a person that had the Nucleus® 6 Sound Processor and her life was wonderful; she could hear music again. I became a public figure in my early recovery years and realized that I needed to fully hear again to be a successful public speaker.

In November 2013, I underwent my first cochlear implant surgery. I was scared because I had never been under general anesthesia for five hours, but I had my Pastor father right by my side. He prayed with me; my procedure was successful.

Hearing sound again

Kay, who lost her hearing due to addiction, with her sonOne month after my surgery, I was activated and I could immediately identify sound. I was so excited just to hear beeps because I couldn’t hear at all for four years. In December 2013, I remember riding home after that first appointment with a nervous feeling. In the backseat of the medical transportation vehicle, I could identify my favorite radio station playing in the car. I was so EXCITED because I realized that I would hear my baby boy’s voice for the very first time when I arrived home!

I walked in my house and picked my baby up. He was 2 years old, standing up in his pack-n-play saying, ‘Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.’ I cried tears of joy to hear his voice for the first time! I started off with the Nucleus 6 Sound Processor on my right side.

Over the next few years, my story began to spread on social media. I began doing speaking engagements and landing many print opportunities globally. I then spoke with my mentor who told me, ‘It’s time to get your left side done; you cannot maximize your full benefit of hearing again if you’re not bilateral.’ I was afraid to get the procedure again because I thought that somehow my hearing would return on my left side.

Bilateral implantation and achieving public success

Kays, who lost her hearing due to addiction, sonAfter consulting with my audiologist, we agreed that it was a necessity to get the left side done. In December 2016 with my dad by my side again, I got the left cochlear implant surgery. Rest in peace to my dad; he passed away in December 2017 but was a huge part of my hearing journey.

I was excited to learn that I was eligible for an upgraded sound processor called the Cochlear Kanso Sound Processor. They are sound processors that sit directly on the head without the behind-the-ear component. I began hearing great right away with my two new Kanso Sound Processors! They are discreet and can be hidden by your hair; I liked that a lot! My True Wireless™ Phone Clip is my lifeline!

Fast forward to 2021 and my life is great! My baby boy is no baby now, he is 9 years old! He is the motivation behind getting my cochlear implants.

My life now

Kay, who lost her hearing due to addiction, with her sound processorBeing in quarantine for a year, my life turned virtual. I have been on over 15 different podcasts, a guest speaker on panels, webinars, Zooms2, StreamYards3 and Webex’s4. I’m an author now and wrote a mini autobiography this past year during quarantine; it was released in January 2021 and was an Amazon5 new release bestseller.

I’m doing virtual book signings, everything I’m doing has been virtual. My lifeline is being able to connect my True Wireless™ Phone Clip to all my meetings and be able to hear, show up and be proactive. I’m a deaf woman who totally relies upon my cochlear implants.

Recently, I decided to show the world who I really was. It was time to display my sound processors, so I cut my hair short and ditched my wig. Everyone loves my new look! I stepped out in faith.”

Are you struggling to hear in everyday situations? Click here to learn more about the capabilities of the Kanso Sound Processor.

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Cara Lippitt
Cara Lippitt is the Senior Manager, Social Media Strategy at Cochlear Americas. Cara is inspired by the stories of the recipients that she is able to tell and the incredible journeys they have taken. Cara was born and raised in Colorado and adores the mountains, snow and the world of musical theatre.