I was born deaf in my left ear. Nobody actually knew that until I was in the fourth grade or higher. In fact, in elementary school I was chastised for not paying attention. I still have report cards where teachers wrote “Lewis does not pay attention in class.” I also tended to talk to other students or to do other things. Of course it was not that I did not want to pay attention. I could not hear much of what was said and was bored. The remedy by teachers back them was to place me at the back of the room as punishment. Obviously that did not help me to hear any better.
Luckily I did survive elementary, Junior High School, High School and City College (undergraduate and graduate) and went on to a career as an educator for the NYC Department of Education.
Overnight in 1997 I suddenly lost most of my hearing in my right ear. It was quite traumatic for me. I immediately went to several Otolaryngologists (ENTs). I also saw Dr. Joe Montano, one of the best communication disorder specialists in the United States. Nobody could pinpoint what happened. My sudden loss of hearing was most likely viral. I did receive a powerful hearing aid which did not help much. I continued to work with my greatly diminished hearing. In 2005 I decided to have a cochlear implant for my left ear, the one I never heard in. The surgeon was Dr. Darius Kohan an expert in the field. This implant allowed me to make out sounds but not words in my left ear. Truly, not much help. Many professionals and friends suggested I receive a cochlear implant in my right ear. I was concerned that I would lose any residual hearing and therefore was reluctant to have the procedure done. I received much coaxing from Megan Kulhmey, a renowned cochlear implant supervising audiologist at the New York Eye and Ear Hospital. She was my audiologist from the just after I received my first implant in 2005. Finally in 2010 I went to a demonstration showing the positive impact of bilateral cochlear implants. My closest of friends John Phillips went with me. The person who conducted the session said that she had been deaf and after the two cochlear implants were implanted she could hear 97%. Cynical and fearful I was unsure what to do. I was almost deaf at that point. Finally after much discussion with John and many other close friends I decided to go with it. It was scheduled for March 16, 2012. I had my second implant also done by Dr. Kohan. John and his partner Chris accompanied me to the hospital. The surgery was completed in an hour or two. John and Chris met me in the recovery room and I was taken home. I was the told I would need to wait three weeks or so to have it activated. High anxiety. I asked Megan and Dr. Kohan if I could have it activated prior to my birthday which was only two weeks away on April 1. They said “YES!” On March 30 John accompanied me to Megan Kulhmey’s office. As soon as the CI was activated I could hear again. John and I went to my car. He and I were thrilled. We conversed. He felt that we were having a real conversation for the first time ever. A miracle had occurred. I now hear approximately 90% in a conversation. I can hear what is said on television 100% and on the telephone around 85%.
For those with hearing problems I strongly suggest that you be evaluated for a cochlear implant. The actual procedure is not major surgery. You go home that same day. New York Eye and Ear is great. Other Cochlear implant centers are also very good. Most cochlear implants are manufactured by Cochlear Limited. Their main office is in Sydney, Australia. When I went to Australia in 2013 I was able to meet with Dr. Chris Roberts the CEO of Cochlear Ltd. This was an enlightening experience. He discussed what the future will bring. Cochlear Ltd. is located on the campus of Macquarie University just outside of Sydney. Presently there are two buildings functioning. Over the ten years another ten building will rise for research, teaching and manufacture. Dr. Roberts said to me “As your contemporaries age and their hearing deteriorates your hearing will continue to improve”. I can vouch for that. The period of time when I was practically deaf was actually a blessing. I was working with children with special needs. The inability to hear during that time gave me much needed insight into the needs of the disabled and what they were going through. I could not have truly appreciated their needs without losing most of my hearing. So, what was very traumatic for me at first turned out to be a blessing for me as I worked with students with disabilities.