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April 22, 2003

Deaf teen able to tune in with implant

From: Knoxville News Sentinel, TN - Apr 22, 2003

Operation gives her chance to hear music

By JODY CALLAHAN, Commercial Appeal
April 22, 2003

MEMPHIS - What a world this must have been.

Never having heard a violin, or a guitar or a piano.

Never having heard a melody so sweet it's impossible to forget.

Or never even being boggled by that television jingle stuck in an endless loop in your head.

This was Beth Overland's world.

Deaf since birth, the White Station High senior and varsity cheerleader always wanted to know that music was more than rumbling bass vibrations tickling her bones.

"She's big in music," said her mom, Angie Overland. "It's real important to her, for some reason. Music's a big part of her life."

So in June 2001, Beth received a cochlear implant targeting her right ear, an uncommon operation for a teenager since the implants are usually done by age 6. The procedure and device - funded through insurance - cost more than $100,000.

The first sound she heard was her father's voice asking, "Can you hear me?" It scared her and made her cry.

"He has a deep voice," she said through sign language. "I'd just never heard it before."

Now, she can hear music, even venturing to last year's Beale Street Music Festival. Current favorites: Eminem and Linkin Park (not Christina Aguilera and Backstreet Boys, as her mom learned after telling a reporter Beth loved those two: "I am so sorry. She got those CDs that year for Christmas. Boy, did I screw up.")

"She loves to crank her stereo," Overland said. "She loves to blast my house until it rattles."

With the implant, Beth can hear other everyday sounds too, the annoying noises that we often take for granted.

She can hear a telephone ring. Or a doorbell. As school lets out and kids rumble past a closed door, she turns at the sound chatter.

"It's really different. I had always lived my life in silence, just silence. I just didn't hear anything," she said, then snapped her fingers. "And then when I got the implant it changed dramatically. It was a new world."

And while hearing music was one of her goals, what Beth wanted to do most was learn to speak. All her life, she communicated with her hands and fingers, through notes and e-mail.

"She was tired of being ignored by the hearing community," her mom said. "Nobody would take the time out to communicate with her. I think that's really why she pushed it to the point that she wanted the cochlear."

Speaking, however, is an extremely difficult task for someone who has only recently heard what words sound like.

"It would be very, very difficult, quite a challenge," said Mary Simmons, Beth's speech-language pathologist. "It takes someone who is dedicated, motivated and very bright to do that, especially at such a late age."

She spent a year working with Simmons, twice a week. She continues to practice on her own, saying words to get them just right.

"It takes so much practice," she said. "It's still a struggle. It's just difficult, but I'm continuing to work on it."

And it's beginning to pay off. Beth doesn't speak at school or around people she doesn't know well.

At home, though, her parents prompt her to use her voice, to practice making the sounds.

"Once the cochlear implant was done, she didn't want to use her voice," Overland said. "It was a little pushing with me, her dad (Tom) and her speech therapist, all of us pushing and saying, 'Nope. Start talking.' "

But around friends and family, the voice - soft and quiet - comes out.

"She's a lot more outgoing, a lot more vocal. She's a lot more interactive with family friends and situations," Overland said. "We're having a blowout graduation party for her. The whole family's coming, all of our friends. She's talking about everybody being there and talking to them."

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The Knoxville News Sentinel Co. All Rights Reserved.