“I have been streaming my phone calls with Made for iPhone – which has led to such a drastic improvement in my ease of listening when on the phone. I no longer dread having to make a phone call.”
-Katie, Audiologist and Nucleus CI recipient
In November, Cochlear invited you to watch for a blog series called I Choose Cochlear featuring stories about real recipients, in their own words. Today, we are pleased to bring to you an interview with Katie, an Audiologist in the Chicagoland area.
Although her hearing loss was diagnosed at age two-and-a-half years, Katie was a full-time hearing aid user until October of this year, when she received a Cochlear® Nucleus™ implant in her right ear. Katie continues to use a hearing aid in her left ear, making her a bimodal recipient/Audiologist!
As Audiologists, we can find ourselves deeply committed to helping transform the lives of people living with hearing loss. And while some of us will also experience hearing loss ourselves, it may not be until we are well-established in our careers that we begin to experience hearing loss. From an early age, Katie was compelled to pursue a career in audiology due, in part, to her belief that she could counsel families in an experiential way, actively relating to their child’s hearing loss and developing long-term relationships with her patients and their families.
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Katie over the last few months and what follows here are her insights, feelings and experiences – all shared with you in her own words.
- Thank you for taking time to meet with me today and to share your story. At what age was your hearing loss identified?
I was identified when I was two and a half years old – right after my sister was born. My parents realized that she, as a newborn, was responding to sounds that I was not as a toddler.
- What are some of the highlights shared by your parents regarding their decision to have your hearing tested and to have you fit with hearing aids?
My parents still recall the first hearing evaluation I ever had in the sound booth. After testing, it was recommended that I have an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) to confirm the degree of my hearing loss. My parents were amazed that the diagnostic Audiologist was able to predict my hearing loss based on my behavioral evaluation. Following my hearing aid fitting, my mom remembers bringing me home and me shouting “WHAT’S THAT?!” to practically every sound in the house: i.e., dishwasher, telephone and the doorbell.
- Can you describe for us how your parents felt about your hearing loss at the time of your diagnosis?
My mom notes that following confirmation of my hearing loss after the ABR, we were all in the car headed home and I was asleep in the backseat. She turned to my dad and asked, “How do we manage this?” My dad’s response: “We’ll figure it out.” My dad always had a tremendous passion to research anything he did not understand – and this was especially the case for my hearing loss. I feel that my parents did not have a “mourning” period – it was more that they quickly turned to action.
- I admire their quick action! Can you please share some of the first memories you have that involve your awareness of the benefits/challenges of your hearing loss?
I remember sitting in the backseat of the car, and my mom was scolding me. I caught her eye in the review mirror and slowly turned off my hearing aids without breaking eye contact!
I also recall going to sleepaway camp for Girl Scouts. The favorite game that was played among the troop was called “telephone”. All of the girls sat in a circle, and a message was passed around the group via whisper from ear to ear. As you can imagine, having significant hearing loss – I dreaded playing that game.
- I can absolutely imagine how you would have felt nervous about playing “telephone”. When you think about that game and some of the struggles that you were faced with, were there any assistive technologies that could have (or did) help you in challenging listening environments? For example, if you wore an FM system in school, can you please describe the benefits and challenges of FM for you?
I did wear an FM system in school; back in the day of “loops,” which was a lovely cord wrapped around my neck. I definitely had an advantage because I could hear my teacher quite well – however, my teachers often would forget to switch off the FM system whenever they left the room to visit the washroom!
- It’s great to hear that you were helped by FM technology and I have definitely heard from patients about the FM versus the bathroom surprise! Katie, in what ways did your own hearing loss impact your decision to become an audiologist?
When I was eight years old, I visited a new Audiologist in a private practice setting. Unfortunately, this Audiologist did not specialize in children – nor did he have a hearing loss. Throughout the appointment, he continued to say he “understood” what I was experiencing. For the first time, I realized I HAD to be an Audiologist so I could truly relate to my patients. I never looked back and that was always my dream.
- Thinking about the game of “telephone” again for a moment, how are you finding the telephone today? Do you stream calls with Made For iPhone or via the Phone Clip?
I have been streaming my phone calls with Made for iPhone (MFi) – which has led to such a drastic improvement in my ease of listening when on the phone. I no longer dread having to make a phone call!
- That’s amazing – your sustained passion for your career is inspiring. I had a year-long conductive hearing loss when I was eight and I also remember sitting in the booth during serial audiograms and thinking that I could make a difference for people with hearing loss and, so, I also became an Audiologist. Who is the professor or mentor who has most shaped your career?
My Audiologist who I met when I was 9 or 10 – I instantly loved and trusted her. She was my primary Audiologist until I graduated from college. I believe the bond that was created actually solidified my desire to build that kind of strong relationship with my patients.
- Do you feel that being an audiologist helped or hindered your decision to receive a cochlear implant?
I think it definitely helped my decision because I already understood the mechanics of a cochlear implant at an advanced level. Also, after working with patients who had garnered success from receiving an implant – it was an exciting time for me.
- When you were considering cochlear implantation, what factors contributed to that decision?
I am recently married and am hopeful for children. Being able to hear my husband and our children clearly was something that was a big deciding factor for me. I also have had a progression in my hearing loss – and through successful patient experiences, I knew an implant would allow me to hear far better than my hearing aid.
- At your implanting center, were you faced with a brand decision? If so, what played into your choice?
I was faced with a brand decision. Cochlear’s Bluetooth capability was quite important to me for streaming phone calls or other audio input. I also utilize a ReSound hearing aid in my opposite ear, which allows me to utilize bimodal streaming technology.
- Connectivity is so important – it is great to hear that you are benefitting both from streaming and from a bimodal fitting. Katie, with your unique position as both a CI recipient and an Audiologist, can you please describe your initial activation?
I had quite the entourage on the day of my activation: both of my parents, my husband, and my mother-in-law came to support me. Upon initial stimulation, I was truly shocked by what I heard. The best way I can describe those initial moments, is that everything sounded like keys on a piano. I was unable to discriminate between speech and any other environmental sounds. It was actually kind of scary.
- Activation day always means a packed room! What sounds were you most eager to hear? How did they sound to you at your initial activation, and how do they sound to you today?
I think it is difficult for me to say what I was most eager to hear – I think I quickly realized that I was able to hear high-frequency consonant sounds (particularly /s/) REALLY well with my implant, even just after a few weeks of hearing. I believe that after a few months of use, I am able to discriminate speech sounds quite well.
- Do you benefit from a hearing instrument in your contralateral ear? If so, what benefits do you feel you receive?
I do receive benefit from a hearing aid in my contralateral ear. My left (hearing aid) ear had always been my stronger ear – and with the inclusion of my hearing aid, I feel that ease of listening has tremendously improved. I feel that my hearing aid allows me to continue to really enjoy music.
- So many cochlear implant recipients have told me how much they value music. Do you have any favorites that you have been enjoying with your CI?
I must admit, as a very new user, music appreciation is something that I continue to work on. I am a huge country fan – I am able to hear the lyrics quite well; but the melody doesn’t sound as seamless yet.
- What are your thoughts about the possibility of a second (bilateral) CI?
I would pursue a second implant if I qualified for the device. I still receive tremendous benefit from my hearing aid at this point. After receiving one implant and knowing the immediate recovery and activation process – I think I would not be too nervous to pursue a second device, if that is what I needed.
- How has having a cochlear implant shaped the way you counsel your patients?
I believe being able to understand my patients and their families on a personal level allows me to connect with them in a way that other clinicians cannot. Of course, everyone’s experience is quite different – but, at bottom, it is an experience I can relate to.
- What questions do your patients most often ask you about your own hearing loss, or about your CI?
I’m often asked about teasing at school, due to my need to wear hearing aids. This seems to be a question that is on a lot of parent’s minds. I’m also asked about how long I’ve had my cochlear implant. Interestingly enough, most of my patients have had their implants longer than I have!
- Is there any part of you that wishes you had pursued CI earlier?
I think hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20. I think that my timing was perfect to pursue an implant at this point in my life and my career, given my continued decrease in hearing. I think the desire truly must be there, as it can be quite a journey to re-learn to listen following implantation.
- In your own words, please describe the difference in overall sound quality and clarity between your implanted and your non-implanted ear:
I feel that my hearing aid allows me to hear differences in pitch. Sounds seem a bit fuller and richer from my hearing aid. On the flip side, I can hear softer sounds with my implant – and speech is seemingly easier to understand.
- Today, what most excites you about your profession?
I think the advances in the hearing aid and cochlear implant devices truly allows for a child with any type or degree of hearing loss to receive benefit from a device. The initial discussion with parents regarding their child’s hearing loss is always difficult. But, to be able to provide a family with a device that will allow their child to hear and be successful – nothing beats that.
- What advances in CI technology are you most excited about?
Bluetooth capability, smaller sound processors and electro-acoustic (EAS) options.
- What advances in CI technology are you most hopeful for?
I’m hopeful for waterproof devices from all manufacturers. Waterwear cases have been such a hit with the pediatric population – for a child to simply be able to be at a friend’s house in the summertime and run through the sprinkler without worrying about his device – that is my hope.
- Okay, one last question for you, something a little lighter. Have you ever programmed your own CI?
Haha!! I have not I have plenty of other cochlear implants to program.
Katie thank you so much for taking time to share your insights into your hearing loss journey, your career and your experiences with your Nucleus cochlear implant, it has been a pleasure to talk with you.