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February 26, 2004

Deaf woman learns to hear

From: BBC News - London,England,UK - Feb 26, 2004

By Anna Lindsay
BBC News Online, Southampton

For many people the sounds of computer keys tapping and endless phones ringing are part of the daily grind of working life.

But for Karen McDonnell, an office administrator from Salisbury, Wiltshire, the sound is like music to her ears.

The 38-year-old has learnt to hear after becoming the 100th adult to receive treatment at the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre at the University of Southampton.

When Karen had her implant switched on just before Christmas, she heard her children's voices for the first time.

"Everything was different," she said.

"It was like listening to music.

"I heard my six-year-old daughter, Sophie, wishing me a happy Christmas.

"When I spoke it didn't sound like my own voice. I was completely overwhelmed."

Before her operation, Karen heard only slight, muffled sounds, and even these were fast deteriorating.

Now she has to ask her husband to turn the TV down.

Car indicators, kettles boiling and water pouring into a cup have become whole new experiences.

Doctors say Karen's hearing will continue to improve as she actually learns to hear more sounds.

Karen said: "The best thing is not always having to rely on others for help.

"Before, people would have to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention before they talked to me as I lip-read.

"I was missing out."

Karen also hopes to enrich her working life, by learning to use the office telephone.

Cochlear implants work by providing a mechanical alternative to the parts of the natural ear that are not working properly.

Karen was the 100th adult to receive an implant from the Southampton team, which carries out on average 27 to 30 operations a year, mostly on the NHS.

The implant sits under the skin behind the ear, and is connected by a wire to the inner ear.

A separate device sits outside the skin and converts noise into electrical impulses, which are then passed into the brain and interpreted as sound.

Julie Brinton, head of the centre, said a single implant costs £31,500.

"That includes £14,350 for the hardware and the rest is assessments, the hospital stay and the tuning - which requires several vists after the operation."