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April 27, 2003

Deaf son uses technology to restore hearing, make mother proud

From: Gwinnett Daily Post, GA - Apr 27, 2003

By Laura Ingram

NORCROSS -- Donna Henderson is a proud mother.
Her son, Matt, graduated from Brookwood High School and Georgia Southern University and has a full-time job. More importantly, he can hear the wind blowing and the birds singing. He can talk to her on the telephone.
When he was 3 years old, Donna Henderson was not sure that her son's life could develop this way. That's when he was diagnosed with "moderate to profound hearing loss."
"No one is sure whether he was born with hearing loss or just had lots of ear infections," Henderson said.
Instead of sending him to a school for the deaf, she sent him to speech therapy and regular school with hearing aids, which magnified every sound, not just the ones he needed. He never learned sign language.
Though many parents want Matt Henderson, 26, to preach to their hearing-impaired children about his path to success, Matt Henderson doesn't see himself as mentor for other deaf kids though he is a rarity graduating from a "hearing high school." In the last two school years, Gwinnett County Schools had a total of six hearing-impaired graduates among its 13 high schools. Like Matt Henderson, they too all used technology to cope with their hearing loss.
"I think of how much worse it would be without technology," said the Lawrenceville resident. "Any technology is a double-edged sword."
The hearing aids gave him the sounds, but it sounded like someone talking too fast or in a foreign language.
"I had to try to grab the words and interpret them," Matt Henderson said.
Another downside to advanced technology is the expectations of the ignorant.
"They assume you hear everything. I'm still accused today of ignoring people. One college professor accused me of faking so I could get a scholarship," Henderson said. "It's a manmade machine. It's a limited miracle."
He shut down in middle school and refused to talk to anyone because other students made fun of the way he talked.
Even with hearing aids to help him in class, he spent most of his high school and college life with computers.
Then, Henderson was introduced into the world of hearing with the cochlear implant four years ago. After the $42,000 surgery that installed a device in his head that electrically stimulates the hearing nerve in the cochlea, or inner ear, so he can perceive sound. The next week, he endured painful headaches, and his brain had to relearn sounds for the next three months.
"It felt like somebody hit me on the side of the head with a hammer," said Henderson.
Donna Henderson shared more pleasant memories. "Every noise, he was like, 'What's that? What's that?' He was like a 2-year-old," she said.
Matt Henderson asked his mother to identify the wind blowing in the chimney, birds singing and crickets chirping in a field at night.
"It was the stuff we take so much for granted," Donna Henderson said.
With the ability to "hear" more, he changed his college major to human resources to reflect his two favorite things ? helping people to get insurance benefits and talking to people.
Henderson is studying financial planning through an Internet course at a Florida college while he looks for a full-time job in his field.
As advances continue in hearing technology, the hearing impaired like Henderson can better navigate the hearing world.
The first cochlear implant was approved by the FDA in 1985 would not have allowed him to enjoy music like the one he received four years ago.
Hearing aids are also improving.
The new Senso Diva hearing aid by Widex cancels the feedback so the hearing impaired can talk on the telephone. Like Henderson's cochlear implant, it can soften background noise and bring out the voices of people talking to you.
Staff and many clients at Atlanta Hearing Aid Services of Rothwell are excited by the Diva hearing aid, said audiologist Julie Fennell.
"It means a greater use of the telephone in their daily life," Fennell noted the personal and professional advantages.
But people have to use the technology. Fennell said most of her patients wait from seven to 10 years and struggle with their hearing loss.
"It only will help you out as much as you seek it out," Henderson advised.

© Gwinnett Daily Post