Hannah’s Story

HannahMy name is Hannah and I am 19 years old. I received bilateral Cochlear implants in the summer of 2014. I am currently on a gap year and will be going to university this coming September.

I have actually been assessed for cochlear implants twice in my life, once at around the age of 5 and then again more recently at the age of 16. I have a progressive hearing loss and was first diagnosed as moderate to severely deaf at the age of two, receiving my first hearing aids just before my 3rd birthday. When I was 5, I had a CT scan and along with other tests, it was discovered that I have Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome as well as Pendred Syndrome. These conditions are the cause of my progressive loss and the associated vertigo. Vertigo not being the fear of heights, but a severe balance illness which came in the form of sudden attacks for me.

At a young age I had several vertigo attacks which also coincided with drops in my hearing, but my hearing also fluctuated, so sometimes it would return a little bit. It was for this reason that I was originally rejected for cochlear implants. Being such a young age I didn’t really understand what was going on, so it didn’t affect me so much. Eventually, the vertigo seemed to stop and my hearing stabilised, albeit at a profound loss on both sides. I continued on through life doing well at school. I achieved good GCSEs: 5 A*s, 3 As and 1 B, which I was very proud of because it had taken a lot of effort through school both academically and with support through notetakers and radio aids.

My next step was sixth form where I chose Biology, Geology and Geography as my A- levels because I want to become a Zoologist (Zoology means ‘the study of animals’). I settled in well for the first few months. Unfortunately, the vertigo returned out of the blue one morning along with a drop in my hearing- this attack lasted for 3 days before I began to recover. Eventually, I went to my audiologist who confirmed the drop in hearing and was able to adjust my hearing aids so that I could make the most of my remaining hearing. I returned to sixth form as quickly as I could because I have always hated missing school and did my best to continue with my studies. I had several more drops in hearing and some vertigo attacks too over the next few months which made education increasingly difficult and also affected my confidence.

Eventually, I was referred by my audiologist to the Auditory Implant Service to see whether a CI would be for me.

This time I met the criteria, though I was borderline initially but after one more big drop in hearing which left me with pretty much no useful hearing left, I decided that cochlear implants were worth going for- I had nothing to lose anymore! I researched CIs extensively, I wanted to understand exactly what they were, how they worked and what other people’s experiences were. The actual process of agreeing to have the operation and then having it done was very quick for me because there was a cancellation and also I had had another drop in hearing, so there wasn’t much point in waiting around. This meant that I ended up having the operation in the Summer of 2014, a day after my 17th birthday.

The operation was successful but I felt pretty unwell for a few weeks afterwards. Despite this, I was determined not to miss the start of the second sixth form year so I went in for the first week with no hearing at all. A week later, it was time for the switch on. I didn’t know what to expect, I was a little afraid that it might hurt. Thankfully, it was painless as beeps and whines filtered through. I couldn’t really hear meaningful sounds but I could tell people were talking though the beeps were delayed as my brain tried to make sense of things. The first sound that I recognised was that of a tap dripping in the kitchen when I arrived home that day! Over the next few weeks and months I had lots of appointments to programme my new implants, these went well and it was a relief that everything had worked as it should. I was finding it hard to cope with everything that was going on though, particularly at sixth form where I was trying to concentrate in lessons while hearing new sounds- who knew that writing on paper was so noisy! I was pretty exhausted and the decision was taken that I would drop two of my A- level subjects and concentrate on one for my second year. Therefore I ended up doing all of my A- levels over 3 years, but I achieved results that I again was really proud of because it had taken a lot for me to get them. I got 2 As and a B.

These grades got me a place at the University of Reading to study Zoology, which I will start in this coming September.

I have always been interested in science and nature from a young age with the zoology passion really coming through in my mid to late teens. Having CIs has actually increased my enjoyment of wildlife because I can actually hear more of birdsong now, even to the extent that with practice I can distinguish between a handful of different bird calls. Also, one of my favourite sounds has to be the snuffles of wild animals, which I hear on trail cameras that I set in my local area to watch foxes and badgers. I don’t know what I will end up doing after my zoology degree, however I do have a passion for canids- members of the dog family- particularly wolves and foxes, so perhaps I will work with them in some way. That would be a dream come true.

CIs are an amazing technology and my hearing is much better with them, however, they are not a miracle cure by any means and I wouldn’t want them to be. I still really struggle in crowded and noisy environments and I heavily rely on subtitles and notetakers.

In my case, a significant benefit is that due to the nature of my hearing loss, CIs have stabilised my hearing and I know that I should not have any more drops in hearing. Additionally, since having the operation, I have had no more severe attacks of vertigo- whether this is directly related to the operation I don’t know and probably will never know. However, I am hugely thankful to the team at AIS and my family as well as others who have supported my through this difficult and, at times, traumatic journey!