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September 24, 2004

Music to her ears

From: Newton Kansan, KS - Sep 24, 2004

Hesston student discovering a new world after cochlear implant

By Marathana Furches
Newton Kansan

HESSTON -- Room 308 in Erb Hall might be the only girls' dorm room with surround sound. Then again, it's the only room in the dorm with a person who's learning how to hear for the first time.

Hesston College sophomores and basketball players Chelsea Jackson and Jenny Boyts occupy the room, which is filled with photos of family and friends, favorite movies and a closet that's most likely shared with every girl on the floor.

"We are pretty lucky that we get to be with Chelsea during this time in her life," Boyts said. "How does it happen where we get to be here for these two years where she's experiencing so many new things in her life?"

Jackson has been deaf most of her life and hasn't let her inability to hear keep her from doing what she wants. Last summer, Jackson took steps to do what she's waited almost a lifetime to do -- hear. Thanks to a cochlear implant, Jackson now can hear things most take for granted. Things like locusts, frogs, rain and music. The word she uses most when describing how something sounds is "awesome."

"It's interesting how everybody's voice is different," Jackson said. "Before, with my hearing aid, everyone sounded the same."

Cochlear implants are usually implanted in one ear and use electrodes to transmit sounds to the auditory nerve in the brain, which allows sound to pass over the nonfunctioning part of the ear and go directly to the brain where it is registered.

It hasn't been easy for Jackson's family to be away from her while she's learning to tell the difference between the sound of a cricket and a bird, she said. But her roommate, along with the rest of Hesston College, is making sure Jackson gets the support she needs.

"Now you point out things you wouldn't think twice about normally," Boyts said. "She will ask what certain sounds are if they're something she hasn't heard before."

Jackson's friends also print out the lyrics to favorite songs so she can read along while listening and learn to better recognize the words. They also took her to her first concert -- Brad Paisley -- at the Kansas State Fair.

Though she has an entire world of sounds to discover and learn, Jackson is just as easily enamored with listening to her own voice.

"It's interesting because she can hear herself now," Boyts said. "Sometimes, she will walk around just going 'ch-ch-ch-ch.' "

Jackson has come a long way during the three months since the implant was turned on. She still has ground to cover in the next three months. Doctors said she could likely reach her highest potential for hearing six months after the implant was turned on.

Some friends cover their lips when they talk to Jackson so she can't read them, which forces her to work more on listening. Others have yet to break their habit of tapping her on the shoulder to get her attention.

Another thing that has changed for Jackson is the way she plays basketball. Before, she could play with her hearing aid, but now she plays in total silence because she has to turn off and remove the implant so it won't get damaged on the court.

As far as plans for life after Hesston College, Jackson said she still isn't sure where she will go.

"I'll probably play ball somewhere," Jackson said.

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