We met Nucleus® Implant recipient Michael O. at the Colorado Neurological Institute’s (CNI) annual Cochlear Kids Camp in July. Michael joined a panel of bright young adults who grew up with a hearing loss. He shared that he participates in a wide variety of sports and does not let anything limit him. Of course, we had to interview him to share his inspiring story.
1. How did you lose your hearing and when did you get a cochlear implant?
I lost my hearing when I was 20 months old to spinal meningitis. The doctors told my parents that I wasn’t going to survive the disease, but I was lucky to do so. It wasn’t an immediate loss in hearing. My parents didn’t know until my mom walked into my room one day, said my name when I was in my crib, and I didn’t respond. She then walked up behind me and clapped and I still didn’t respond. From then until the age of 17, I used a hearing aid in my right ear and nothing in my left ear because my hearing loss was so profound in that ear. I got my cochlear implant the beginning of my senior year of high school.
2. What prompted you to get a cochlear implant?
I had never heard the word cochlear implant until my audiologist, Terry Burke, in Glenwood Springs, CO told my family and I about it. After that, I took a road trip with my mom down to Denver and met with Alison Biever at Rocky Mountain Ear Center. We went through the preliminary test to make sure I qualified to get a cochlear implant in my left ear. After I passed the test, I scheduled the surgery and began the process as soon as I could. I will be the first to admit that I was terrified going into the process and had no idea what to expect. When I first had my cochlear implant turned on, I couldn’t even recognize my own name or tell any sounds apart. With time, I was able to decipher the sound I was hearing out of my left ear, and grow to love that sound. Before that, I had no idea what I was missing!!!
3. What has it been like to have a cochlear implant?
Having a cochlear implant has been amazing and life changing. Originally, I thought that I was hearing like everyone else around me, and I didn’t think that I was drastically different. That all changed after I got used to my cochlear implant and learned how to use it together with my hearing aid. I became more involved with my friends and confident in myself. Every day is a learning experience for me, and I look forward to it every morning.
4. What outdoor activities do you pursue?
I like to participate in any sports that I can. Today I went and played pick up basketball with some friends. During the week, I play in a 6 on 6 volleyball league in the park. In the winter, I play on a intramural hockey team. Additionally, I grew up skiing every weekend. Growing up, skiing was my passion, and I did it professionally for 10 years. My brother, sister and I all competed and filmed for years, and we loved it. I learned so much traveling the world and having fun doing what I loved.
5. How does having a cochlear implant play a role in your outdoor activities?
The way that I see it, having a cochlear implant has never affected the sports and activities that I do. If I am doing something like surfing, then I take them off. Therefore, I am deaf, and I deal with it. I have learned to laugh at some situations such as people in the water getting mad about something and yelling at me only to find out later that I am deaf. They feel terrible. Other than that, I have learned to cope with it and don’t ever let it stop me from being active or doing what I enjoy.
6. What tips and tricks do you have for pursuing outdoor activities with a cochlear implant?
I wouldn’t say that there are any tricks or tips per se. I try to be cautious with my devices and keep them away from water. I know that there are new cases like the Nucleus® Aqua+ and other things to help with water sports, but I am still cautious because I don’t want to lose a device. I also make sure that I wear a helmet when I am skiing, but the reasons for that are more for brain injuries and not so much about my cochlear device.
7. Any words of wisdom to share with parents and fellow cochlear implant recipients?
Hmmm, I would like to think that I am still young and not one to be offering words of wisdom, but I think that I can offer something that I think is important. Kids are kids and need to be kids. Just because someone has a hearing loss doesn’t mean that they need to be treated different or babied. If you fall down, you get back up and learn from it and continue on with life.