Hear Our Voices by John Ojeda

Midlife Awakening: How My Wife and I Became Bilateral Cochlear Implant Recipients

by John Ojeda

My wife and I both received bilateral cochlear implants in the second half of 2014. The journey has been incredible thus far and we feel it was the best decision and investment we have made to attain better access to sound and improve our quality of life. I am eternally grateful to have met Ted Meyer, M.D., Ph.D., and his superb team at the Cochlear Implant Program of Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

I was raised in the mainstream using listening and spoken language, but that still didn’t stop me from having prejudices and misconceptions about cochlear implants. While attending Gallaudet University, I even wrote a paper on how doctors and hearing health professionals such as audiologists and speech therapists were coercing parents into implanting their children who were deaf so that they could become “hearing” again. At the time, I felt that cochlear implants were a slap in the face for people who are deaf and hard of hearing like me, who had worked hard all of their lives to achieve all of the goals they had set forth for themselves as people with hearing loss.

John Ojeda with his wife at a friend's house in
Centennial, Colorado.
credit: patrick kay

Fast forward 20 years later, my lovely wife and I are the parents of two children with typical hearing. Being parents changed our perspective on cochlear implants. For starters, we now understand what parents of children who are deaf and hard of hearing are trying to attain for them when choosing cochlear implantation. We understood that parents are trying to give their child a good start and a better quality of life, which is no different than what we want for our own children who can hear.  

We faced challenges as people who are deaf and found ourselves feeling isolated. In South Carolina, where we live, there aren’t many people who are deaf and hard of hearing and use listening and spoken language. We began to struggle with our social life and shied away from participating in our children's extracurricular or school activities because we couldn’t hear. I was struggling at work and found it an uphill challenge, despite the assistive devices and accommodations for my hearing loss. We felt that our quality of life was deteriorating quickly.

About six years ago, my wife was in dire need of repairing her ruptured ear drum. All the ENTs that we visited in Charleston gave us a grim prognosis with only a 50 percent chance of success. When we visited Dr. Meyer at Medical University of South Carolina, he expressed confidence and gave us a good prognosis. My wife’s surgery was a glowing success! During our follow-up visits, Dr. Meyer talked to us about getting a cochlear implant. He wasn’t pushy about it and we initially responded that we’d think about it.

Although we gave it some thought, we shelved the idea because we were wary of the potential side effects without the guarantee that it would work. However, we began to see our friends with hearing loss become successful cochlear implant users. I envied their abilities, as I was no longer able to use the phone and relied heavily on speechreading to understand everyone, including my own children. We began to research cochlear implants in earnest.

I became a member of Facebook and started reaching out to people who had received cochlear implants. Their stories were inspiring, remarkable and, in someinstances, simply mind-blowing! We could no longer wait.

My wife took the bold step of receiving her cochlear implants first because, as a homemaker, she didn’t need to schedule time off. There were many unanswered questions: How much time off would I need for a journey of this magnitude? It is difficult to predict because everyone is different. What results could my wife and I expect? This is the ultimate unknown because the results depend greatly on an individual’s prior hearing history and auditory memory.

My wife and I have similar hearing losses, but we are different in that I was born with typical hearing and she was not. If she has some measurable success with the cochlear implant, then perhaps I could expect the same. My wife underwent surgery twice to become a bilateral cochlear implant recipient within three months. As I watched and waited, I was incredibly nervous and filled with lingering skepticism about her potential success, despite all of the research we had done and all of the success stories we heard.

Both of her cochlear implant activations required patience and perseverance. But gradually I saw the changes. Her love for music went from non-existent with hearing aids to becoming a music enthusiast. Her music appreciation just skyrocketed completely off the charts. The hearing tests for both processors during her activations blew my mind. I sat in the sound booth alongside her, and she raised her hand at hearing beeps and sounds that I couldn’t perceive. I was astounded. I knew then that I would move forward with my own surgery and that I would hear better with the cochlear implant than I could with a hearing aid. Our first moments with her cochlear implants were amazing and unforgettable.

The day after my 48th birthday, I underwent surgery for my first implant. I decided to blog about my experience to help people on the same journey by providing information and honest reflections of my experiences. It was therapeutic for me to blog about my cochlear implant experience—it offered me a distraction and nothing could have prepared me for what I was to experience.

Roman and Isabelle, the author's children, smiling
after a successful dance recital event for Isabelle.
credit: john ojeda

My first activation was phenomenal from day one! I was truly in awe, as I did not expect good results this quickly, and every day it gets better. My second activation was even better than the first one, since my brain already had some training and sound recognition, and the acclimation process was quicker the second time around. Going from unilateral to bilateral helped me localize sounds better. It filled the “void” of not hearing from one side and I went from listening in mono to listening in stereo. The benefits of becoming a bilateral cochlear implant user have proven to be well worth my time, effort and investment. Being able to hear with both implants has been a real game changer for me. After 20 years of not using the phone, I am now an avid phone user!

This is my story so far and I have yet to experience many things with the cochlear implants. I look forward to new opportunities at work that would enable me to collaborate with other teams as the result of my newfound hearing, participating at my children's school, mingling with other parents and friends, and possibly setting up a social group for cochlear implant recipients in the Charleston area.

I am a member of the Cochlear Implant Experiences (CIE) group on Facebook, which is dedicated to informing and educating prospective cochlear implant recipients during their own personal journey. I continue to blog about my experience at ci4hearing.wordpress.com and participate on the CIE forum via Facebook.

The possibilities are endless, the sky is the limit, and my bucket list has grown immeasurably. All because of this wonderful hearing technology called cochlear implants.

John Ojeda, recently received bilateral cochlear implants at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Prior to that, he was a longtime user of hearing aids with exceptional speechreading skills that served him well throughout his IT career. Ojeda decided to pursue cochlear implantation as a permanent hearing solution after reaching the end-of-the-rope with hearing aids. Since his activation of both cochlear implant processors, he has been enjoying and capitalizing on his newfound hearing with just about every aspect of everyday life. He continues to work with his audiologist at MUSC in finding ideal cochlear implant mappings for different listening situations and he also reaches out to other recipients for new mapping strategies. Ojeda resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife of 20 years and two children. He enjoys spending time with his family and traveling. He can be contacted at ci4hearing@gmail.com.

Source: Volta Voices (2015): Volume 22, Issue 2. 

Back to April-June 2015 Volta Voices Magazine