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December 27, 2002


From: Geelong Advertiser, Australia - 27 Dec 2002


SWITCHED ON: Renee Kahle, left, can hear
her twin sister Jane again thanks to the
bionic ear Renee had implanted after her
fight with the shocking meningococcal disease.

RENEE Kahle was plunged into an eerie world of silence when meningococcal disease robbed her of her hearing overnight.

But the Breamlea 20-year-old knows she is lucky to be alive after surviving the deadly bug four months ago.

``I look at myself and I think I could've died,'' she said yesterday.

``I'd rather have lost my hearing than an arm or a leg.''

On August 9 this year Renee woke up feeling nauseous and was diagnosed with a simple virus.

The next day she was deaf.

``I woke up and my head was killing and I yelled out and I couldn't hear myself,'' she said.

It is unknown how she contracted the disease or what strain of the bug it was.

``As far as I'm concerned I was living my normal life and I'm never going to know how it happened - that's one of the annoying things, I'll never know,'' Renee said.

She spent two days in intensive care and a week in Geelong Hospital with her identical twin sister Jane never leaving her side.

Three months to the day Renee contracted the killer bug she was given a bionic ear.

She was ``switched on'' to the world on October 28, able to hear again after months of lip reading and writing messages on a whiteboard.

``It's nothing like natural hearing, it's really hard to explain,'' Renee said.

``I've had to teach myself to hear again. It will always be like that, that's just the hearing I have.''

Renee said the decision to get a bionic ear implant was a difficult one as the operation wipes out all natural hearing.

But doctors believed the bones in her ears were so damaged she would never regain her natural hearing.

``I'm really lucky that I had the chance to hear for 19 years,'' she said.

``In so many ways I'm so lucky and in other ways I wish it had been put off for another five years.''

Renee is a third-year apprentice hairdresser whose love of life was heightened by her brush with meningococcal.

Her aim is to travel and go snowboarding in Canada although she is unsure if that will be possible as her illness not only affected her hearing.

``I lost all my balance too, I looked drunk,'' she said.

``I was so proud one day when I didn't need anyone's help (to walk) and it just picked up from there.''

Meningococcal is commonly spread through saliva.

Renee said she was now a ``drinks Nazi'' if she saw her friends sharing drinks.

She has also urged her friends to get vaccinated against the disease, as she, twin Jane and older brother Brent have been.

``I can't make people do it, I wish I could,'' she said.

``Everyone was so shocked, you never expect it to happen to you or someone so close.

``You just don't realise how special you are.''