IM this article to a friend!

March 26, 2003

Baseball dad learns sound of son's bat

From: Consitution Journal Today, GA - Mar 26, 2003

Todd Holcomb - Staff

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Tom Cox has been getting teary-eyed over simple things.

The clear sound of his mother's voice, his daughter's footsteps, his cat's
meow, even the wail of a fire engine might do it for a man who recently had a
procedure that allows him to hear almost normally for the first time in his

And of all these novel sounds, none resonates more poignant than the one Cox
heard last month when he attended his son's first baseball practice at Wheeler
High School in Marietta.

"I could hear the crack of the bat for the first time, and it was so sweet,"
Cox said with a grin at a recent Wheeler game. "My eyes welled up, and I still
can get goose bumps sometimes. It was just awesome."

Cox, 48, played baseball as a child and taught his son to play, but only now
can he relish the sounds of the game. Before the procedure, Cox could hear loud
cheers only as muffled roars, even when wearing a hearing aid. The other sounds
of baseball were silent.

"Now I can't wait to go to an Atlanta Braves game," Cox said.

In 1975, Cox became the first hearing-impaired student to graduate from
Wheeler, but it's coincidental that his son, Dustin, attends the same school.
The Coxes live in the Kell High School district in north Cobb, but Dustin is a
student in Wheeler's magnet program for advanced math and science.

Dustin has played baseball since he was 8, and his father rarely misses a game.
As one of three sophomores on the Wheeler team, Dustin is not a starter, but
seven years on traveling youth teams suggests he could be next year.

"I like baseball because my father likes it so much," said Dustin, an
outfielder. "He taught me everything. During the offseason, almost every day we
throw, and we're going to batting cages all the time."

Benefiting from new technology

Cox, a liaison engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation,
benefited from the same procedure performed recently on 1995 Miss America
Heather Whitestone and talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

It's called a cochlear implant, which uses a device that electronically
stimulates the nerve that directs hearing in the brain. It is designed for
people so profoundly deaf that hearing aids are only marginally helpful.

The first cochlear implants were performed about 15 years ago, but in the past
five years technology has made them powerful enough to help a wider range of
patients. Almost 40,000 Americans have them now.

Cox wears a sound processor over his left ear that resembles a hearing aid.
This processor sends electrical impulses by short wire to a dime-sized
transmitter that holds magnetically to the implant that's just under the scalp
above the ear. The implant was activated Jan. 7, two weeks after surgery.

"I was hearing things and nobody was in the room," Cox said. "My brother said
somebody was opening the door down the hallway. That just blew my mind. This is
like being a newborn."

Cox is learning to match new sounds to their source, which can be confusing. He
likes music, but he finds rock or anything with multiple instruments "a little
annoying" right now.

To help with speech and comprehension, Cox listens to audiotapes while reading
books, and he watches closed-captioned television with the sound on so he can
associate the spoken and the written word. Before the procedure, Cox could
perceive vowel sounds with a hearing aid, but consonants were too high-pitched,
so he relied on lip-reading.

Making new friends more easily

Other parents of Wheeler players say Cox's speech is greatly improved, and
fascination with the procedure has helped Cox and his wife, Gena, who is also
hearing impaired, make friends easily as "new parents" on the team.

Cox: "I've always been outgoing, but I do find people are more friendly to me
now, maybe because they're not so afraid. I find that interesting. I'm the same
ol' guy as always."

Steve Ivey, the father of a Wheeler player, was with Cox at the practice field
when the sounds of baseball first came to life.

"I gave him a hug and it brought tears to my eyes, too," Ivey said. "To think
about hearing your son hit a ball for the first time and a whole new world
opening up to you. He's like a kid with a new toy."

Gena Cox, who'd lost most of her hearing by the time she was 6, is considering
the procedure. It takes a full year of testing to determine if a patient meets
the criteria.

She is pleased that Tom's enjoyment of the game has been enhanced. She also
thinks the couple's deafness has been an ironic asset to their children's
pursuit of team sports. Daughter Brooke, 11, is a serious soccer player.

"I'd like to think we both give Dustin and Brooke a different perspective in
dealing with other people who may or may not be different from them," Gena
said. "Because of that, I think they've developed more patience and
understanding that helps you be part of the team."

Perhaps the Coxes have had a similar influence on other Wheeler baseball
parents, who seem more close-knit after sharing Cox's wonderment.

"Our family has been involved in youth baseball for many years," said Alan
Schlact, father of a Wheeler player, "but we have never experienced anything as
uplifting as this."

© 2003 Consitution Journal Today