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April 19, 2006

Hearing, speech foundation a lifeline in a silent world

From: - Halifax,Nova Scotia,Canada - Apr 19, 2006

By Joel Jacobson BRIGHT SPOT

MARILYN HUBER’S cochlear implants have removed her dependence on her cat.

Roz Prince’s gravelly voice utters words she thought she might never say aloud again.

Eva Landry brags, and rightly so, about the important contribution made to these two women, and thousands of others, by the Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Foundation board, to which she belongs.

Nearly 50 men and women are attending a Government House reception to honour the board, staff and clients of the foundation. Its facilities have grown from a solitary hearing and speech centre in 1963 to 29 centres in 25 Nova Scotia communities.

Men and women, boys and girls, from all walks of life suffer hearing or speech loss or difficulty each year. Hearing and speech therapists and speech pathologists work tirelessly with their clients to renew their ability to live an active life.

As foundation board chairman John Forsyth of Halifax cites facts and figures about his organization, a cellphone rings at the back of the room. Someone quickly turns off the ringer.

John smiles, grabbing the ad lib opportunity.

"I had no problem hearing that," he says with a grin. "Those of us who can are fortunate. But just suppose you couldn’t hear or respond," he says, his voice trailing off.

Marilyn was a music teacher for more than 20 years. Over two decades ago, at age 42, she started losing her hearing because of a rare inherited gene. Told she would lose her hearing completely but given no timeline, the Brookside woman decided to meet the challenge.

"I went to high-end hearing aids. Good for a while. Then I employed my cat to hear for me, like run to the door if the bell rang or arch her back if the phone rang," she smiles. "Three years ago, I was completely deaf. I closed my piano. I couldn’t hear a thing. I was frustrated. I felt I didn’t belong in a hearing world."

Her eyes twinkle. "Two years ago, the word ’implant’ took on new meaning for me," she says with a wry grin. "Since having cochlear implants in April 2004, my radar is back. I can hear the birds in the morning, the laughter of children waiting for the school bus, which are two of my favourite sounds.

"I can use a phone again, something I couldn’t do for 15 years. The top is up on my piano again. I went to my son’s wedding and wept with joy that I could I hear the vows that I thought I’d never hear. And my cat is on permanent rest. She treats me with the usual disdain because she doesn’t have to do anything anymore."

She shows me her hearing aids and the location of the implant’s computer chip.

"I’m still totally deaf but I’m hearing every word you say."

Roz, a Dartmouth real estate agent, already had voice fatigue when a rare illness damaged her voice box in 2003.

"We take our voice for granted," she remarks. "You have no idea the isolation when you can’t speak. It’s difficult physically, emotionally and psychologically — and very frustrating."

Roz met speech pathologist Heather MacLean who gave her "such hope that I cried for a long time with relief. You have to learn to use 35 muscles in your throat and breathe properly at the same time. I’ve worked hard at it."

Without the Hearing and Speech Centre, Roz says, she wouldn’t be able to work, speak or even think.

"I started at the centre nine months ago, weekly for the first four months, and now usually once every two weeks. My work was curtailed to a certain degree, but I kept on, using e-mail for all my communication. I’m still a work in progress."

Roz will soon be appointed to the foundation’s board, ready to sit beside Eva who has served for 26 years.

Eva, who lives in St. Peter’s, joined the board during her career as a school teacher.

"I drive to each board meeting in Halifax because each meeting is an inspiration to me to continue serving. From my teaching experience, I know how critical hearing and speaking are to learning."

Eva has seen the expansion of centres to as far away as Yarmouth and Dingwall.

"Now all Nova Scotian children with hearing difficulties have the opportunity for correction in their early years. They can go on to a successful life."

She confesses admiration for the way teachers carry out their professional responsibilities but says, "the staff at the hearing and speech centres are more dedicated than anyone I’ve seen."

She praises the foundation as among the leaders in the country.

"It’s one of Nova Scotia’s best-kept secrets. If you don’t need the service, you don’t know it exists."

This wonderful volunteer concludes: "We have a program like Sound Start that enables every baby to have a hearing test within hours of birth and therefore catches (and begins correction of) problems early. People have to be told who we are and what we do to help them."

Bright Spot appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Be sure to read Great Kids in The Sunday Herald. Contact Joel Jacobson via e-mail at, or fax at 902-426-1158, or phone, 902-426-0128.

© 2006 The Halifax Herald Limited