cochlear implants

Katelyn and Solenne

By Timothy Higdon

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You know well what it means to live with hearing loss: It can be lonely, scary, or frustrating. It can make us struggle to access the things — and the people — we love the most.

I know these feelings, too. In the U.S. Army, I was exposed to equipment, demolitions and weaponry without wearing hearing protection, and today I live with a bilateral hearing loss.

I cannot thank our supporters enough for making critical hearing and balance research possible. Having only recently joined Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), I already this generosity and enthusiasm for better treatments and cures so inspirational.

Support from private individuals is especially critical given how government funding for hearing loss research is so low relative to its burden on Americans.

Sisters Katelyn, 12, and Solenne, 11, of Connecticut, are among the tens of millions of individuals who benefit from advances in hearing loss research. Both girls were born with severe to profound hearing loss but showed no benefit from hearing aids. They have both since received cochlear implants (CIs).

Their mother, Genevieve, is grateful that Katelyn and Solenne are able to attend a mainstream school and thrive. Katelyn plays lacrosse and violin, while Solenne plays basketball and sings in the school chorus. Both girls take sailing lessons in the summer.

But Genevieve and her husband, Brian, know well that more advancements in technology and medicine will benefit their daughters, other children, and adults. Because there are limitations to CIs and hearing aids, the long-term objective for HHF is to provide far better quality hearing discovered through research.

Please make a contribution today to bring us closer to permanent hearing loss cures. Your generosity can make possible more scientific discoveries we — our veterans, parents, our children, spouses, friends — urgently need. 


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Restoring Teachable Moments

By Neyeah Watson

Effective listening is fundamental to being a teacher. Terry Harris, who lives with a severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss, teaches special education in Glenview, IL. His life and profession changed dramatically when he experienced three months of total deafness — prompting him at age 40 to undergo cochlear implant (CI) surgery to restore his access to sound.  

Harris was diagnosed at age 4 with a profound hearing loss in his left ear and a severe-profound loss in his right. He suffered chronic ear infections and was believed to have contracted the mumps, and, at the time, his doctors believed this caused his hearing loss. Harris’s current ENT suspects the cause is genetic, as his great aunt was deaf and his son recently developed a mild hearing loss.

Terry Harris leads a presentation. Credit: Brian O'Mahoney, Pioneer Press

Terry Harris leads a presentation. Credit: Brian O'Mahoney, Pioneer Press

Despite his bilateral loss, Harrris was fitted with a hearing aid in his right ear only after his diagnosis. He attended an oral program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students until third grade before transitioning to mainstream education. In both schools, he used speech-language pathology and lipreading to supplement the amplification he received from his hearing aid. His individualized education plan (IEP) primarily focused on vocabulary development, speech-language development, developing compensatory skills, and utilizing accommodations. 

Though his IEP continued through his high school graduation, Harris struggled to follow noisy discussions in the classroom. Academics were challenging, but he received average marks or better thanks to his phenomenal teachers and hearing intererent (aide). Meanwhile, Harris developed a love for sports, which became more of a focus and priority for him in high school. 

Harris brought his passion for football and baseball with him to Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, IL, where he studied Special Education. Although Harris opted not to receive a 504 plan — an agenda to ensure a student with a disability has access to accommodations that will secure their success — his academic experience at Elmhurst was positive and accessible. He appreciated, for example, that he was able to take American Sign Language courses to fulfill his foreign language requirement. 

In 1999, Harris became a special education teacher, fulfilling a dream he’d had since eighth grade. Harris’s love for teaching derives from the support he received from his own educators. “I teach because of the teachers and coaches who influenced my childhood,” he explains. “I attribute my success to them. They never let me use my hearing loss as an excuse for failure or an excuse not to try something.”

Terry Harris writes on the whiteboard in social studies class. Credit: Brian O'Mahoney, Pioneer Press

Terry Harris writes on the whiteboard in social studies class. Credit: Brian O'Mahoney, Pioneer Press

Harris did not consider CIs until 2014, when he experienced sudden loss of the remaining hearing in his right ear. He lost his hearing completely. “I struggled knowing if I had missed any teachable moments as a result of not hearing everything,” Harris recalls. 

CI surgery had not been considered for Harris during his childhood, when the procedure was still viewed skeptically. But when he experienced total deafness, he viewed CIs as his only option. While aware of the intense aural rehabilitation that would follow, Harris was fully committed to the process of getting the hearing he needed and deserved.

Before the procedure, Harris taught for an entire month while completely deaf. He relied solely on lipreading and the assistance of a few teacher’s assistants. These three months served as a time for Harris to understand just how much CIs could better his quality of life. During this time he remained excited about restored access to sound. 

Harris took a four-month medical leave of absence for rehabilitation after the surgery. Although he did not want to be away from his students long, he was aware that the time was necessary in order to invest in developing to be the teacher he believed his students deserved. Now for the first time in his life, Harris is able to hear in the normal range, as well as localize sound.

Not getting the surgery sooner was Harris’s only regret. Now for the first time in his life, Harris is able to hear in the normal range, as well as localize sound.“I am much more confident in the classroom and other areas of the school building. The cafeteria, the auditorium, or even the gymnasium are no longer ‘problem’" areas for me.”  

Harris makes it a priority to incorporate his hearing loss story into his lessons, and begins each school year with a presentation about how CIs work. Given that Harris teaches children with special needs—including three students with hearing loss to date—he believes these lessons inspire self-determination, compensatory skills, and self-advocacy. He is proud to share his own experiences to let his students know they can achieve fulfillment living with a hearing loss or other perceived limitations.

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Comfortable

By Joe Mussomeli

Being uncomfortable can be nerve-wracking, strange, and sometimes scary. For my brother, Alex, 14, being uncomfortable is all of these things. Born with a hearing loss, Alex has felt uncomfortable so many times in his life it’s impossible to count them all. He recently found himself in an especially uncomfortable situation when he was invited for a swim and sleepover at a friend’s house.

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To most teenagers, these activities aren’t uncomfortable; they’re fun. But when Alex received his invitation, he was overcome by anxiety related to his hearing loss. He worried he’d take too long to change into his swimming clothes, which include a shirt that attaches to his waterproof cochlear implant (CI). He dreaded others seeing him wear this. He feared he wouldn’t understand every word the other kids said in the pool. Above all, he was nervous the other kids would distance themselves from him because he was different.

Swimming wasn’t even the most distressing part. It was the mention of a sleepover that troubled Alex most. Just the mention of the word “sleepover” made his stomach tie into a knot. Every night, he removes his CI and hearing aid. He places the devices in a dry and store dehumidifier box, powers on the box, and then, finally, goes to sleep. Carrying out this routine at a sleepover would be, in theory, extremely difficult. Alex would have to keep his hearing devices on while talking to his friends at night. At the conversation’s end, Alex would have to take off his devices, but if it resumed, he would have to go through the hassle of putting his devices back on, or he would have to be left out. The whole situation would be unconventional and nerve-wracking for him. Essentially, it would be uncomfortable.

Alex was so uncomfortable that he almost declined the invitation until our dad pointed him in a different direction. The morning before the sleepover, Alex asked Dad if he should go to his friend's house. My dad told him that he should. Alex was quiet for a moment before he poured out all of his anxiety. He told him about how nervous he was and all of his other discomforts. Dad responded, “I won’t tell you what to do, but I will tell you this: Do you want to be uncomfortable your whole life, or are you willing to take a chance?” He left Alex to think over these words.

In the end, Alex didn’t go to the sleepover, but he went for a swim. Yes, it did take him longer than the other kids to change for the pool, and yes, he didn’t hear every word his friends said in the pool. But he still went, he dove into a pool of discomfort, dealt with it, and to his surprise, he had a bit of fun. He texted my dad an hour later asking if he could stay until at least 9 PM. My dad replied with three words: “If you’re comfortable.” Alex replied with two: “I am.”

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