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March 28, 2005

Music to her ears: Cochlear implants allow women to hear sounds for first time

From: Journal Gazette and Times-Courier - Charleston,IL,USA - Mar 28, 2005

By Sue Smyser, Features Writer

Hearing the words "I love you," the laughter of children or a cat meowing were all sounds denied to Laura Hall at birth.

Her mother was exposed to measles during the pregnancy, and even though she never contracted the disease, the exposure was enough to wreak havoc with her unborn baby's developing auditory nerves.

As an infant, Hall's parents noticed she didn't respond to sounds and had her fitted for hearing aids at age 2. This allowed her to go from having no hearing to having moderate hearing loss. But still, there were sounds she couldn't hear.

She spent her childhood and teenage years reading lips, responding to sign language and watching people closely for communication. Consequently, she grew up with some speech problems that were improved with therapy.

When she became an adult, she met and married Ryan Hall, and they now have three children: Monica, 11; Serena, 5; and Bradyn, 3.

When the children were babies her husband helped with their care. "I could hear them crying, but only muffled," Hall of Mattoon said.

He was her hearing backup. "My husband helped at night when I took the hearing aids out," she said.

The hearing aids worked for her until about four years ago, when they began causing dizzy spells.

"I don't know if it was from hormone changes or just changes in my body, but they (the hearing aids) were making me dizzy.

"I went to see my doctor to see why I was having problems with my ears," she said.

After she nearly lost consciousness from the dizziness, she tried not wearing the hearing aids, but found the silence too lonely.

"I took the hearing aids out, but that was driving me crazy," she said. "I had to have sound."

Eventually she was referred to Dr Novack with Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, who talked to her about cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices designed to help individuals with severe to profound hearing loss and for whom hearing aids won't work.

The implant converts every-day sounds into coded electrical impulses that stimulate the hearing nerve, and the brain interprets them as sound.

In May 2003, Hall received two cochlear implants (bilateral) at the same time. Her insurance paid for one.

"I had to recuperate about a month, then they turned on the implants through a computer and programmed them to suit my needs."

At first she wore the device a couple of hours at a time. The total healing took between six and eight weeks.

"I had a bandage on both sides of my head, like ear muffs," she said.

The batteries in the device must be replaced every three days and she goes for annual checkups.

When she began hearing sounds she had never heard before, some of them were a nuisance. But others were wonderful.

"It's like being reborn," Hall said. "I hear the microwave and washing machine. I'm always hearing new sounds."

Hall works as a developmental instructor at the Charleston Transitional Facility. In the past she relied on sign language and lip reading to communicate.

"I'm learning more and more. I don't have to look at people all the time," she said.

One of the first new things she heard was the hum of her computer keyboard at work.

"That was annoying," she said. "People around me were used to it, but that sound was annoying to me.

"Hearing all the sounds was like learning a foreign language or new language."

Still, she didn't hear everything at night. She said it has been a gradual process.

She loves hearing all of the new sounds, even though they have somewhat of an electronic tone.

The Halls have a 1½-year-old Bengal cat named Sabian, and she had never heard him meow. She can now hear Sabian, as well as hear their dog bark.

Sounds on the street are music to her ears now.

"I can tell the difference between a motorcycle and a car going down the street," she said.

Her husband said their family life has definitely changed since she began hearing better. And now his wife can use a regular telephone.

"She called me from North Carolina and talked directly to me," he said. "She understood everything I said."

And when it comes to the typical fusses children get into, she intervenes quickly.

"My kids weren't used to me responding so quick. Now, when they fight I'm right there. But if I don't want to hear them, I can take this out," she joked.

Contact Sue Smyser at or 238-6864.

Copyright © 2005 Journal Gazette and Times-Courier, divisions of Lee Enterprises .