Colleen Powell is the mom of 7-year-old Liam, who is a recent recipient of his second MED-EL cochlear implant. In this post, Colleen shares their experience of her son getting his first cochlear implant, and then his second.
If you told me in August of 2013, just after Liam’s first CI surgery, that in four years we’d be anxiously awaiting surgery day for his second hearing implant, I would have laughed.
“I wasn’t ready to acknowledge this miracle technology.”
Liam was diagnosed with a moderate-to-severe hearing loss at 13 months of age. At 9 months he was not babbling using consonant sounds, and so we shortly afterwards began a number of screenings with specialists to determine the problem. Liam used hearing aids for two years, and we were then told he was a CI candidate. Back in August of 2013, Liam had just got his first CI and we were anxiously awaiting his recovery. In a few short months we’d gone from potential candidate for a cochlear implant to my son wearing a CI. I was adjusting to this new world of magnets and Auditory-Verbal Therapy. Initially, I wasn’t thankful for this foreign object in Liam’s head. In the first few weeks, I had a three-year-old who couldn’t understand anything I said when he wore his new implant. Liam hated it too. I wasn’t ready to acknowledge this miracle technology.
However with time, things got better—after about a week Liam was happy to wear his processor for longer periods, and after 6 months he graduated from AVT. I’ll never forget the way Liam’s language just exploded about 2 months post activation. Before the implant, he only used short, simple sentences, or just one or two word answers. Before his implant he would talk, but remained on the quieter side. With the implant, Liam’s language improved to using full, complete, complex sentences. He actually became quite the chatter box!
Fast forward four years and I now I have a seven-year-old who screamed for joy when I told him our insurance had just approved his second implant. Liam had been asking for a second implant for about two years now, always citing that he wanted two implants so he could hear better.
“A cross between an alien and a robot…”
Liam was happy and excited on surgery day. He was excited of course for the popsicles and watching television, but also because of what would be different with the implant. Hearing day was even better. Liam did great during the initial activation, telling us when it was too loud or too soft, describing the sounds in his head as “a cross between an alien and a robot.” He remarked at one point, “I can understand what I’m saying, but I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
I was prepared for that this time, but it was still a bit of a punch to the gut. That whole “relearning” how to listen was mind-boggling. I knew it was coming, logically, but emotionally, I wasn’t prepared.
“He’d stare at me blankly, unable to answer if he’d rather have eggs or cereal for breakfast.”
The recommendation from our audiologist was to spend an hour a day having Liam wear only his new implant. I’d planned on having him do this hour first thing in the morning, when he was freshest, as we went about our morning routine. I’d forgotten that I may as well be speaking in a foreign language those first few days, for all he understood with his new ear. He’d stare at me blankly, unable to answer if he’d rather have eggs or cereal for breakfast.
We scratched that “first hour of the day” plan immediately. Instead, we started doing it after school. We would do it in either two half-hour increments, or one full hour after his youngest sisters had gone to bed and I could fully work with Liam on his own. I would read him books. Again, I started with a plan that was way out of our league—finding novels we could enjoy together. We realized that this was a bit too hard, so we downgraded to simple picture books.
“And just like that, three weeks in, two ears were better than one.”
One morning I had to wake Liam up early to take him to his Auditory Verbal Therapy before school. I put his left processor on, the older, on the stronger of his two ears. Liam stopped me and asked for his second, newer processor to be put on too. He said, “I like it better with both. I can hear better.” And just like that, three weeks in, two ears were better than one.
For the next few months, we kept plugging along with Liam’s hearing rehabilitation, practicing together for that hour each day. His new ear got stronger with the practice and activities given by his therapist. At around the twelve week mark, we had a whole conversation where I didn’t even realize that Liam was only wearing his new ear. He’d taken off his older one for his daily hour and I didn’t know. That was progress.
“He can communicate with his friends, siblings, strangers on the street.”
The process of rehabilitation for Liam’s second ear went so smoothly, so seamlessly, that it’s easy for me to forget the hard parts. To be honest, there weren’t as many hard parts this time around. He was older, more easily enticed by the games. He’d learned to listen with a cochlear implant once before and I think somehow his brain knew it could do it again. There weren’t the toddler temper tantrums and lack of understanding of what was going on in his brain. But that doesn’t mean it was perfect. Liam worked hard, got frustrated and sometimes didn’t want to try very hard to listen.
But man, already it’s worth every second of the struggle to relearn how to hear. Hearing is so important in Liam’s life because he now has the ability to fully engage in all aspects of our hearing world. He can communicate with his friends, siblings, strangers on the street. He’s able to hear his teacher and participate in a mainstream school. Hearing allows Liam the full range of relational connection that the rest of our family enjoys. Two ears are better than one, and for that we are so thankful!
Thanks Colleen and Liam! Liked finding out about the CI journey? Check out this story about 12-year-old Charlie, a talented bilateral CI user who plays multiple instruments!
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