New Hearing Implant Changes Life of Born This Way Star Sean McElwee

By Carol Stoll and Lauren McGrath

“It could happen” is Sean McElwee’s mantra. Born with Down syndrome, a collapsed right ear canal, and three speech disorders, Sean has drawn on his natural optimism to overcome these medical obstacles and become a television star.

At age 22, Sean was discovered and cast on A&E’s Emmy-winning TV series Born This Way, which follows the lives of seven young adults living with Down syndrome in Los Angeles. Sean’s radiant personality made him a favorite on the show, but his progressive hearing loss eventually negatively affected his on-camera communication. Deaf in his right ear since age six and now losing hearing in his left, Sean resolved to make a change. Hearing rejuvenation “could happen”—and it did happen—thanks to Sean’s positive attitude and a Cochlear Baha System.

Sean enjoying the sights and sounds of penguins at the zoo. Photo by the McElwee family.

Sean enjoying the sights and sounds of penguins at the zoo. Photo by the McElwee family.

Sean grew up going to mainstream public schools in Orange County, CA, because his mom wanted him to experience life like every other child. Throughout his childhood, he developed a plethora of hobbies and talents. Sean has been singing and dancing since age three when he joined his church and school choir. He still sings, though now mostly in the shower at home to Adam Lambert songs. Sean also loves to break dance to rap and hip-hop music, and can even put both feet behind his head. He plays many sports including basketball, baseball, flag football, swimming, and golf. He is also an expert bowler and has scored a perfect score of 300 before!

In addition to keeping up with his hobbies, starring on Born This Way, and traveling to public speaking engagements, Sean works at a trampoline park where he enjoys talking to the customers. Sean’s new Baha 5 Sound Processor has enabled him to hear clearly while continuing to work and engage in sports and the arts. The new device is convenient because it can connect directly to, and stream audio from an iPhone to his sound processor. Most notably, Sean’s girlfriend can now sit on either side of him during a conversation and he can still hear her.

Sean, now 24, takes his work very seriously and recently started his own clothing design company called Seanese (named after his own language) to further spread awareness of Down syndrome and general positive messages. “It could happen” was the slogan on his first T-shirt, and now he has added dozens of phrases, designs, and clothing items. He is especially excited that he hired a special artist to design new Halloween shirts this October with images of a mummy, skeleton, and zombie.

Beyond furthering his clothing line, Sean’s personal goals include going to all 50 states (he only has 14 left to go!), appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, going to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas, and working out to develop his abdominal muscles. He hopes that in the future, “everyone will accept people with Down syndrome and see that we’re just like everyone else.”

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