73-year-old Anthony Leo is rediscovering life through sound. With bilateral implants, Anthony can not only hear again, he can engage with life on every level. Here, he shares his emotional journey to hearing and reminds others that, regardless of your age, or how long you’ve experienced it, you don’t have to live with hearing loss.
“At 20 years old, I suddenly lost hearing in my right ear. When I received a diagnosis of “sudden onset hearing loss”, I’ll admit that I felt scared. It was 1967 and medical options were limited.
Two weeks later, tinnitus (ringing in my ears) set in, only disappearing when I was asleep. I felt like I was going crazy, but after a while, I realised I’d just have to learn to live with this new reality.
Maybe it was diversionary therapy, but I learned to fly light airplanes. From my childhood I loved building models and now I was flying real airplanes! I also loved my work as a solar engineer, and I was grateful I could continue doing that regardless.
It might seem hard to believe, but I got used to it, and carried on hearing with my left ear until 2001, when I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma – a tumour – in my left ear. I was told that surgery may result in losing my hearing, but to ignore it could be fatal, so in 2002, I had the tumor removed.
Hearing aids weren’t enough
While I did preserve some hearing after the surgery, it began to decline. I got more and more powerful (and expensive!) hearing aids, but these only worked for a short time. It was a slippery slope – I was pretending I could hear, and it was exhausting.
I became a recluse as I couldn’t participate in conversations and so I stopped going to social outings and events – it was isolating. At home, I was relying on lip reading, hand signs and guess work to understand what my wife was saying.
It was hard on me and the people around me. Everyday things were becoming terrifying. I had a fear of the phone! When it rang with attention-grabbing noise and inescapable flashing red-lights I would almost have a panic attack. Should I pick it up? Should I let it go to the answering machine?
I was rapidly losing connections with people and the world around me. Put simply, my life was going downhill rapidly.
Exploring cochlear implants
I started to worry that the tumour would come back, so I went to see my surgeon. He did some tests, and assured me there was no tumour, but he did refer me to see Associate Professor Cathy Birman at RIDBC to find out if I would benefit from a cochlear implant.
After my initial visit with A/Prof Birman, I felt that a light was starting to shine. Perhaps I would be able to hear again! A/Prof Birman’s expert and gentle guidance helped me to make the decision to go ahead with my first implant.
Regaining my hearing
In December 2018, I sat with the wonderful Carol Amos, my audiologist at RIDBC Liverpool, as my first cochlear implant was switched on. Carol spoke to me and I understood every word – I looked at my wife and I just cried.
What a great outcome – even though I only had hearing in one ear, I could hear and understand without fear or stress.
Then in 2019, it was decided that I was a candidate for a second implant– after 53 years without hearing in my right ear, it might be possible!
In December 2019, my right implant was switched on. I couldn’t hear as well as with my left ear, but I did have some access to sound and after so long, it made me excited for the future. Then, just four days later, I was watching a program and I wasn’t straining to follow along – I could understand every word!
I have had hearing in both ears for 12 weeks now and it has already changed my life.
The ‘cone of silence” on my right side is gone! I can hear conversations and recognise where sound is coming from. I have reconnected with people and social events, so I don’t feel isolated anymore.
As for my phone phobia, I now regularly use an iPhone which talks to both my sound processors. I also use a wall phone in T-loop mode with one sound processor.
I am so thankful that A/Prof Birman had the insight and, dare I say, the courage to resurrect my right ear. The team at RIDBC supported me every step of the way, and because of them I can enjoy all the things life has to offer – how do you say thank you for that?
Remember that no matter how long you have lived with hearing loss or how old you are, it’s worth exploring your options. You may just find that cochlear implants can change your life.”
To start exploring whether cochlear implants could be right for you or your child, contact the RIDBC Client Care team via the phone on 1300 581 391, email email@example.com, or online by visiting www.ridbc.org.au/scic.