My name is Priya Jones. I was born in Calcutta, India. When my parents adopted me, I moved to the United States of America at seventeen months old. I have bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, and I wear two cochlear implants (CIs) to help me hear and understand speech. I also have craniofacial syndrome, which for me, means a cleft lip and palate, a bifold nose, and partial vision impairment in one eye.
While I was still in the orphanage in India, my parents got a phone call saying that I was deaf. Nevertheless, this fact did not deter them from adopting me. I could not talk or hear, and I used English Sign Language to communicate.
Soon after I turned two, my parents took me to an audiologist to be fitted for hearing aids. From then on, I wore hearing aids until I turned twenty. A year later, I had a procedure done called pharyngeal flap, which allowed me to learn to talk. By the time I got to kindergarten, I was hearing and talking, in addition to using sign language to communicate.
When I got to my second year of college, however, my hearing and speech understanding really began to decline. It was bad enough to affect me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was terrified that I would be deaf for the rest of my life. I went back to my audiologist for another hearing test, which showed that I had severe to profound hearing loss.
My audiologist was very kind and compassionate about the situation the whole time. She told me that I was a candidate for cochlear implants and referred me to a different audiologist. The new audiologist confirmed my candidacy, and talked to me about CIs, and what would be involved in my getting them.
When I found out that I was really getting CIs, I was excited and scared at the same time. I fervently hoped to be able to understand and hear better with the implants. But at the same time, I was worried that something might not go right during activation. What if I didn’t reach my full potential to hear and understand speech, and I would have to suffer being deaf for the rest of my life?
Two months later, in March 2020, I got my first implant. And my life changed completely. When my implant was activated two weeks after the surgery, I thought the computer was playing music into my implant, but it was not. The audiologist told me that my brain was working hard to pick up the new voices and sounds.
Right away I could understand voices even though they sounded like robots, and I heard the audiologist’s keyboard clicking when he typed. And on the way home, I could hear all the cars that were driving by and the turn signals in my vehicle. The audiologist told me that I would improve and hear even better as time went on and my brain relearned how to hear and understand with the CI.
A week later, however, I experienced something that most people newly implanted with a CI never had to deal with. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and the whole country went into quarantine.. I had to try to relearn how to hear while quarantined at home, and also try to understand everyone with masks on in public for three months.
When I got the second implant activated six months later in September, 2020, I knew what to expect, so it wasn’t such a scary experience. Since then, both CIs have helped me tremendously. I am able to hear sounds and understand speech more clearly, even when the speaker has a mask on.
With my CIs, my hearing has improved so much that I can hear better than my dad, who is hard of hearing. Half of the time, my mom, sister and I have to interpret for him instead of them interpreting for me. My family enjoys my enthusiasm and the fact that I can hear and understand almost completely without help.
Now, almost one year after I got my first CI, I can hear sounds and conversations that are very important to me. It is really fun when I can engage in a conversation with other people without asking them to repeat constantly, especially when they have masks on. And it is amazing how much the CIs help me to understand videos without closed captioning, which I always relied on when I had hearing aids.
Perhaps most importantly, I am thrilled to be able to examine patients by listening through a regular electronic stethoscope. Without the ability to do that, I probably would not have been able to pursue my Medical Assistant Certification or continue my education further in the healthcare field. All in all, I am very thankful that my CIs have allowed me to hear and understand speech like normal hearing people.
If you have severe or profound hearing loss, I highly recommend for you to consider cochlear implants. They can provide more benefit than you may think. However, keep in mind that cochlear implants do not restore how people naturally hear. They work by stimulating the auditory nerve in a way that allows your brain to interpret tiny electrical impulses as sounds.
The sooner you get implanted, the better your brain will be able to learn how to interpret the new electrical stimuli. That’s why my advice to parents of young kids is to get them implanted as early as possible. After the implants are activated, auditory verbal therapy is very helpful in developing listening and spoken language skills. Speech therapy can also help with pronunciation and articulating sounds when talking.
Learning to hear or hear again with a CI is very hard but rewarding work. It helps to have a good support system to help you through this experience. It will all be worth it in the long run.
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