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September 23, 2002

Deaf woman makes a sound decision

From: Evansville Courier & Press, KY - 23 Sept 2002

By DAVE HOSICK Courier & Press staff writer

For 33 years, Shannon Green has lived a happy life, despite never hearing
the sound of a mountain stream, the soothing soul of a jazz record or the
loving words of her parents.

Green was born deaf because her mother contracted German measles during
pregnancy. She accepted her condition, but when she learned of an
opportunity to hear noises - especially the simple yet powerful word "Mom" -
Green decided the possible reward was too great to pass.

" I thought about it and decided I had nothing to lose. I was deaf anyway,"
Green said through an interpreter. "I knew I was going to be OK no matter

Like 1995's Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum, fitted with the device
last week, Green has had a similar experience with a cochlear implant.

Like McCallum, Green was first puzzled by the range of sounds. Then, she
said, she was excited to hear the sounds of her 9-year-old son's voice.

"It was a little emotional when (Clay) said 'Mom,' and I could hear his
voice," she said. "I really enjoy hearing him laughing. He's so cute. That's
my favorite sound to hear."

About 55,000 people worldwide have benefited from the technology. Although
the procedure is not designed for everybody with hearing loss, Green decided
it was worth a shot.

Green had the surgery performed June 25 at the Indiana University Medical
Center in Indianapolis. On Aug. 12, the implanted device was switched on.

The greatest benefit, she said, was being able to hear Clay's voice.

Looking back, however, the decision was not an easy one.

"I liked being deaf," she explained. "I am telling you what, it is so
peaceful not hearing everything. With hearing things now, it's all such a
new experience."

As a child, she learned to sign and read lips and attended Central High
School in Evansville, where she graduated with the help of an interpreter
and note takers. She met her husband, D.R. Green, while in school.

After three years of considering the surgery, Green consulted with a surgeon
before Christmas last year. Those first sounds she heard at the hospital
still ring loudly.

"I remember hearing a camera and the voice of my husband and parents and
sister talking and taking pictures," she said. "It was overwhelming. Real
overwhelming," she continued. "I was just used to not hearing anything. I
had always felt vibrations, but it's still different. And it will take time
to get used to it."

It has taken weeks to recognize the sound of a water fountain, the toilet
flushing and the phone ringing.

Cochlear implants were first marketed commercially in the mid-1980s, but the
technology has advanced in the last five years. The implants differ from a
hearing aid, which simply amplifies sound, because they directly stimulate
the auditory nerve fibers in the inner ear (cochlea).

An external headpiece is worn behind the ear, and a magnetic device attaches
to an implanted coil. A small earpiece picks up sounds transmitted to a
battery-operated processor, which can be worn at the waist or carried in a
shirt pocket. The signals then travel to the implant, which delivers pulses
that stimulate the auditory nerve fibers. Those pulses are interpreted by
the brain as sounds.

Implants have been performed on both adults and children, although not all
people with hearing loss are good candidates. Experts say the best
candidates are those who have profound hearing loss in both ears and receive
little if any benefit from standard hearing aids.

"Some individuals, especially individuals who are adults, may not feel the
need for a cochlear implant. They may be comfortable with their mode of
communication and their status, whether they are hearing or not hearing,"
said Debbie Wink, a speech and language pathologist and certified
auditory/verbal therapist at The Rehabilitation Center in Evansville.

Wink, who currently works with seven children and two adults with cochlear
implants, said each person is different in how he or she accepts being able
to hear for the first time and how one progresses.

"Cochlear implants are a wonderful tool for improving listening skills for
children and adults who wish to pursue that avenue, but it is an individual
choice if they want to pursue that," she said.

The procedure can also have an effect on more than than just a person's
physical health, however.

"This is not for everybody," Green agreed. "I socialize more in the hearing
world than some people. I went to public school and was mainstreamed and
learned to read lips well. But a deaf individual who is culturally deaf and
went to a deaf school might not feel as positive about the language and

For people who have learned to live comfortably in society with no hearing,
the challenges of starting over may outweigh the benefit of having hearing
restored. The implant patient can expect years of therapy and training to

"The doctor told me it will take about a year for me to articulate the words
that are coming in," Green said. "I've never heard any of these sounds in my
life. I'm about at the stage of a baby."

Starting over can be hard on an adult, but Green said her family has been
her strength. She also credited her friends and co-workers in the Probate
Division at the Vanderburgh County Courts Building.

"My husband was always positive and told me I could do it," she said. "He's
very patient and he knows it's going to take quite some time to adjust. He
let me know he loves me no matter what."

"Before the implant was a very emotional time for my family because it
wasn't even an option before," she added. "They went through so much trying
to find a way for me to hear. It was emotional for them. They always wanted
me to hear things."

Her father, Charlie Trafton, said the implant has been a dream come true for
his family. "It was very emotional" when Green heard her first sounds after
her surgery. "The linguist up there said: 'Here's a box of tissues. You guys
get ready.'"

"Everybody in our family ... is just really amazed and thrilled," Trafton
said, adding that Green's grandparents are especially excited. "This is
something they didn't think they would ever see in their lifetime. They're
just real happy."

Green says she has a long way to go before she can hear at a functioning
level. Her father estimates it will be two years before she can decipher
sounds and speak. For now, she's content with focusing on learning familiar
phrases such as "How are you?" and "I love you."

Next month, the family will go on its annual vacation to Florida. "I've
always wanted to hear the ocean," she said.

Copyright 2002 Evansville Courier & Press