Hello, my name is Sue Vardon and I have been a member of ALOHA for 13 years. Recently, I made a presentation to Desert Cochlear Connections concerning my "Return to Surround Sound."
My hearing loss began in childhood which was not surprising since both my mother and grandmother wore hearing aids as adults. The only type of phone I ever remember using was one with an amplified handset. Luckily for me, my hearing loss was identified in elementary school, making me eligible for speech and language services where I learned to speechread. Speechreading is a combination of watching movements of speaker’s mouth, observing visual cues, and using context of the message and situation to determine what is being said. This skill I have used my entire life to assist me in understanding incoming speech.
As I grew older, I was drawn to the teaching profession and thus became an educator. Initially, in college I had a speech pathology and audiology minor.
San Jose State University, the college I attended, emphasized speech pathology over audiology so I did not pursue additional coursework in the field since I had difficulty isolating and hearing specific speech sounds in children. Instead I ventured into general education teaching elementary aged students until I decided to get my learning handicapped credential and master’s degree in special education.
From that point on I had a different perspective in dealing with my own hearing loss since my special education courses emphasized building on a student’s strengths and helping them compensate for their weaknesses. Thus I began to focus on finding ways to compensate for my hearing difficulties.
After teaching for several years and having a “noisy” classroom, I finally got my first pair of hearing aids at age 25. From 25 to 52 years old I progressed through multiple pairs of hearing aids, the cost toward which health insurance contributed nothing.
For no known reason, in my early 40s my hearing took a large dip and I was told I would be a candidate for a cochlear implant in 15 years. A cochlear implant (CI) is a device which stimulates the hearing nerve directly, mirroring natural hearing abilities. Unlike hearing aids, the CI makes the sounds of life louder and clearer, not just louder.*
In 2000, I unfortunately became eligible for disability retirement due to lack of hearing and left my position as an education specialist with the California State Department of Education. Continuing to live in the San Francisco Bay area was no longer option due to my retirement so my husband and I relocated to Tucson.
Soon after moving, I found ALOHA and Loretta Butler, ALOHA’s wonderful office manager. Loretta introduced me to the Tuesday support group and taught me how to use my TTY. Being part of a support group with others with hearing loss was eye opening — it was the first time in my entire life I was with people who really understood the struggles those of us with hearing loss go through on a daily basis. We shared, we laughed, we let go of our frustrations!
ALOHA’s support group encouraged my search for “new ears.” At first, I investigated assistive listening devices which could be used with my hearing aids but later expanded my search to include cochlear implants. The assistive listening devices helped some but did not allow me to return to teaching so a cochlear implant seemed to be worth the try — nothing could be worse than what I had. I no longer could hear the sound of my dog’s bark or the auditory part of a fire alarm even when I was standing right next to it as it went off.
After making the decision to get a CI, I hit a roadblock when my health insurance would not cover the procedure. I attempted to get a quote as to the cost of implant operation, etc., so I could pay for it privately, but the clinic I asked was unwilling to provide one. So I applied for and was accepted by Social Security Disability. With Social Security Disability, I was eligible for Medicare after 2 years of being considered disabled.
The operation was in March, 2003, with activation of the CI in April. SUCCESS!
I could immediately understand voices, although they sounded a bit strange, and carry on a conversation without speechreading. I got my life back — enjoyed the theatre again without having to read the play prior to seeing it; returned to teaching special needs students; willingly attended social activities and mingled with people I did not know; and carried on a conversation at night in a car. Additionally, I could hear birds chirp, gravel crunch, wind blowing, my dogs bark, the microwave ding, the sound of toilet flushing, etc. My CI was truly incredible!
As time went on, I lost enough hearing in the ear that was not implanted to so that a hearing aid no longer helped. This led to my second CI. In June, 2009, my right ear was implanted with my health insurance covering almost everything. I was delighted to return to surround sound — two ears are definitely better than one. Bilateral hearing gave me: a fuller sound; improved location of sound; increased discrimination of sound especially in noise; more enjoyable music; reduced frustration; fewer mispronunciations; the ability to always have one working ear; and two ears working together.
The only negative to having bilateral CIs is I lost what hearing I had left, which to me was not an issue since I had a profound bilateral loss which meant I heard very little.