By Kathy Landau Goodman, Au.D.
(ARA) - When I was 9 years old, I remember standing in the middle of our family room at a big party, jamming my fingers in my ears, and watching the silent movement of peopleís mouths trying to figure out what it was like for my father who was born with a very severe hearing loss. It was probably then, at some level, that I knew my lifelong career would somehow involve hearing.
I have always been amazed how he would come back from the theater, movies, or even the opera and comment that the singing or music was beautiful. As a young girl I discovered I could scream behind my fatherís back and he would not react but by just reading lips he could understand every word. My father can drive a car and have a conversation with someone in the backseat by reading their lips in the rearview mirror. As Iíve grown older, I have come to realize just how amazing my father is.
His hearing loss was not discovered until age 3. My grandmother realized something was wrong when he didnít start talking. The doctor said he heard nothing in his right ear and had a very severe hearing loss in his left ear. He explained it would be very difficult for him to learn to speak or to understand others. My grandmother took it upon herself to get her son the very best instruction. She hired a speech pathologist twice a week to work with him. As there were no hearing aids at that time, a speaking tube and visual and tactile cues were used to teach my father to speak. An elementary school teacher was hired to live with them and tutor my dad for 14 years.
He entered public school full time in the seventh grade. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) did not exist at that time so no remedial help was available. He was often humiliated by teachers and teased by fellow students At 13 he became a Bar Mitzvah. Imagine trying to learn another language without being able to hear it. He accomplished all this without a hearing aid -- truly an amazing accomplishment!
Only after his Bar Mitzvah did he receive his first hearing aid. It was a large device with a huge battery, carried in his back pocket. It could pick up sounds but he could not understand any speech without reading lips. However, it opened up his world to sound and he loved it!
He went to work in his fatherís business after college and became a very successful businessman. He married and had 3 children. As an adult my father developed Meniereís disease. He was hospitalized often, sometimes 3 days at a time. My fatherís good ear was operated on and he lost everything he had -- no more sound awareness!
For the past 30 years he has continued to wear the most powerful body aid made to feel sound. When asked why he wore it even though he could not hear or understand speech, he would simply reply, ďBecause without it, my world is dead.Ē
Last year as an audiologist, I tested my dadís hearing and he did not even feel the sound as he had in the past. I was desperate to help my father.
I have devoted my entire life to helping those with hearing loss and educating the general public about hearing care. Now, the man who inspired me was in need of my help, and I felt helpless. As chairperson of the national Audiology Awareness Campaign I have been most fortunate to work with an outstanding group of audiologists. An audiologist on our board of directors specializes in cochlear implants. I told her about my father and she gave us reason to hope. My dad and I consulted with my colleague and the surgeon.
After many tests and consulting with his personal physicians, he was determined to be a candidate for surgery. My dadís expectations were very low. He felt that if he could just feel sound like he had with his hearing aid, it would be a success for him. I was more hopeful. However, I also felt much pressure from my two brothers, who were quite concerned that the surgery would be too dangerous for my dad given his diabetes, heart condition, and age (75 years old). They worried that the risk from the anesthesia might be too great, yet they entrusted me to make the final decision. I felt an enormous burden of responsibility.
Six weeks after the operation we met with the audiologist to turn on and program the cochlear implant (CI). Initially my dad seemed nervous and apprehensive. When the processor was placed on his head, he was shocked and pleasantly surprised. My dad then listened to tones of different pitches. Once the speech processor was programmed and turned on, my father said, ďWhat was that?Ē
I was unzipping my purse! He heard it! It was amazing! For the first time in his life he could hear his own footsteps and could make out garbled voices. He was not able to distinguish words without
Once we returned to my dadís apartment I was busy making different noises so my dad could try to associate the sounds. He was able to hear soft sounds, even a microwave beep. It was truly a miracle! My father can now hear and monitor the volume of his voice. Prior to the implant this was impossible. Imagine not being able to hear your own voice and not knowing how loud you are speaking when you are in noisy or quiet situations. There were both frustrating and embarrassing moments for him as he tried to adjust his own voice to adapt into many different surroundings.
We went out for supper to a noisy restaurant where my father said he could hear me talking but could also hear people at the other tables. He wanted to know what they were saying. He couldnít believe that even I didnít understand what was being said at the next table.
I reassured my dad that the brain is a marvelous mechanism. With time, just as with hearing aid use, the brain learns to tune out extraneous noise and focuses on speech. In the case of cochlear implants, the brain will recognize sounds and speech, and what seemed artificial at the beginning becomes quite natural in time. He would just need to have patience.
One month since my father had discovered a whole new world of sound, he came up to Philly to spend the holidays with his family. I was sitting next to him in the synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The cantor was facing the ark (away from the congregation) during one of the prayers when my father started to cry. ďWhatís the matter, Dad?Ē I asked.
ďI hear the cantor singing! He has a magnificent voice. I never heard the cantor sing before. Iím completely overwhelmed!Ē
I had tears in my eyes and was filled with emotion. I couldnít believe it. It was truly wonderful! I realized how most of us take our hearing for granted and donít appreciate just how lucky we are to be able to hear.
My father is my hero. Not only for what he has recently undergone, but also more importantly for his life accomplishments. His attitude throughout his life has been incredibly positive and he views each set-back as a challenge. He has never allowed himself any sympathy nor would he allow others to pity him. His story is unique. His life is successful. And his example is inspirational. He is my father.