Karen had her first cochlear implant when she was a young mum, and her second four years later. She received an upgraded processor three years ago following an accident, and a further upgrade a few months ago.
She can now stream sound straight from her phone into her ears which has helped her rediscover her love of music. This is her story.
“My hearing loss was discovered at age five when I first started school. I had normal low and middle frequency but no high frequency at all. I was told that because of this, hearing aids wouldn’t help. Somehow my mother was led to believe that my hearing loss wouldn’t get any worse. I think it declined a bit in my teens but it wasn't tested and then there was a noticeable drop when I was around 30. I had a hearing aid briefly in an effort to keep my ear stimulated, but there wasn’t much hearing benefit to this.
“My first (left) ear was implanted 16 years ago.
“My switch-on was a big disappointment - I had no sound, only sensation. I jokingly referred to it as my 'electric shock treatment' -- it was pretty sensitive.
“I was well supported by the CI team at the time. We noticed I very gradually started to say, "that's sound, not sensation". But my test results weren’t great. I sensed people thought that I might give up.
“But I saw it as me having two choices – I could either give up and live with being totally deaf, or leave the CI on my head and hope I got some benefit from it, however small. I couldn’t face option A, so I stuck with B.
“I had a four-month-old baby at the time. I spent a lot of time at home and was quite sleep-deprived. I tried listening to an audio book but found it hard to follow anything. There was a noticeable improvement in my speech perception when I went back to work about eight months later. I had far more interaction with people and that really made a difference.
“We chopped and changed with my mapping to try and find something that worked for me. It was close to two years before I could honestly say I’d done the right thing.
“However, I was still in a place where I felt I couldn't do my job as well as I would have liked, nor could I participate in some aspects of life. I couldn’t use the phone at all, and I couldn’t hear music. I avoided social situations.
“I felt that I really needed two ears, and so I paid for the second ear to be implanted privately. It was a huge deal for us.
“My second switch-on was much better. I very quickly found a massive increase in my ability to understand speech with both ears together.
“I felt that the extra benefit from the second ear "got me over the line" for many things - being able to distinguish some environmental sounds that I couldn't identify with one ear, and I could understand speech so much better. But I had limited success with the phone and I still couldn’t be around music - I described it as "babies and tomcats playing in the pot cupboard".
“The upgrade to my N7 processor was my first experience with Bluetooth streaming, and my performance with the phone improved a lot. I still had some calls that didn't work, but I attempted phone calls more often. But music was still a no-go area.
“My recent upgrade to the N8 on one side has been a break-through. It means that I now have two ears that stream. I currently have nearly 140 songs on my Spotify playlist!!
“When I became aware that my hearing was going to be lost entirely, one of the most upsetting things for me was the loss of music. I’ve always been aware that music is such an important relaxation tool for most people. I always listened to the radio or CD in the car on the way home from work, and spent many a Friday night by the stereo with written lyrics in hand learning new songs. I used music as emotional support when I was going through some of the hardest times in my life.
“In the first few days with my new N8 processor I 'rediscovered' music and it was a very emotional time. One of my horses was very sick at the time and I noticed that listening to music really helped my anxiety levels. I’m feeling happier in myself all-around since my most recent upgrade.
“It’s also brought me closer to others who are in a similar situation. Along with music, I can now hear some sounds that I’ve never heard - birds, the netball whistle!
“I feel that life without my CIs is something I hope I never have to experience again”.
Karen, a chartered accountant, lives in Auckland with her partner Mark, “a wonderful supportive man” and three busy, sports-mad kids. Her eldest, Ashley (18), last year’s Dux at Rangitoto College, has just started Biomed at the University of Auckland, and is hoping to get into med school at the end of the year. Her son, Cory, (16), plays football, water-skis and has his sights set on being an engineer -- last year he made his own waterski from scratch out of carbon fibre. Her youngest, Kayla (12), is into every sport going – at the moment she plays netball, rides horses and often cooks the family dinner.
Karen currently works for a group of charities in the disability sector. She is also a keen sports photographer and has sold some of her work.