Shawn J. lived most of his life with hearing aids, and then one day they were no longer enough. Fearful of surgery, he put off cochlear implants for years. Then Shawn became a father, and he realized how much he wanted to hear his son:
“Although it feels like it sometimes, I wasn’t always deaf. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, the youngest of my mother’s three children. The only exposure I had to the world of the Deaf was Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin and the actress Linda from Sesame Street.
Like many young people, I was a huge music head. Everything from classical piano concertos to hip-hop to bluegrass was, and is, music to my ears.
I remember watching my big brother play high school and college football and the roar of the crowds was always so exciting.
Then the proverbial music died.
I had been wearing hearing aids from age 10 until 21, and though I did need them, I could still hear pretty well without them. I took for granted that I could still hear and barely noticed my hearing was waning severely as an adult. I would turn up the volume on my hearing aids all the way up and nothing helped.
I must have known subconsciously that my hearing was going to go away, so I paid extra attention to the sounds around me and played my favorite songs on repeat. So much so that it became ingrained into my long-term memory. Every note, every chord and chorus I knew by heart by the time my hearing fell below the point where I could no longer hear most sounds.
It wasn’t until I had heard of the cochlear implant a few years later that I had any sort of hope to hear again. After reading about it and learning the surgery dealt with the cochlea, I backed off on the idea.
Years went by and life went on.
I became a father, and for the next six years that was my focus. Cochlear implants stayed in the back of my mind and would pop up here and there.
My son had just turned 5 years old in 2005, and I had grown increasingly tired of not hearing my son’s voice. I felt that I was missing out on all the important things he was saying. While he grew up with American Sign Language (both me and his mom are deaf), I wanted to hear his voice. It was that thought that drove my decision to finally get the implant.
As I found out, it wasn’t as simple as requesting the surgery to the audiologist. I learned I had to take testing to determine my level of hearing, or lack thereof. January 2006 was the beginning of my journey back to hearing. After going to the audiologist for testing for the next two months, it was confirmed that I was an excellent candidate for a cochlear implant. Now doubt is creeping in as the thought of surgery returned. However, I had to soldier on because the thought of hearing my son speak was more powerful than any fear I had.
It was finally time to have the surgery on September 26, 2006. After a few months of wrangling with the insurance company at my job, my friend Cecile drove me to the hospital where Dr. House (a well-known cochlear implant surgeon in the southeast) was in prep to perform what should have been a one-hour surgery. I was nervous and when I’m nervous, I joke around nonstop. Cecile, the nurses and orderlies were laughing their socks off. Inside, I was a wreck.
Two weeks later, I was ‘turned on’ for the first time. I could hear sound, but it was mostly static. However, I could tell the difference in accents between my audiologist and the Cochlear rep, who was from South Africa. It wasn’t until nearly two months later that my brain had become acclimated to sound again, and I was able to understand speech!
Hearing and understanding my son for the first time was an amazing experience. We took turns speaking and signing, and it was as if we had always been able to do that. We had, but I couldn’t hear him at all before then; having the ability to finally hear him was a gift.
My son and I have been through a lot over the last decade and our bond grew stronger with my ability to hear. I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made and for Cochlear being there with me every step of the way to make my wish come true.”
Read more of Shawn’s story at his website, http://deaftourette.com/.