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James has a message to share following his cochlear implant: thankyou for the music

James lost most of his hearing before he turned one and always struggled to hear. Now his cochlear implant journey has led to new experiences, from his first musical to delivering Christmas cheer.
James wearing Santa suit sitting on Santa chair
  • Hearing

After losing most of his hearing before the age of one, when he contracted meningitis, James Ashley has always struggled to hear. But even though he couldn’t hear it clearly, James was drawn to music―and being able to experience it became a lifelong pursuit.

Even with a digital hearing aid, he only just managed to be able to access songs and melodies but, as James describes it, ‘it was better than nothing’.

I love music but had never really heard the outside world. Then I saw my cochlear implant surgeon, and that changed everything.

— James

James has no spoken language (he generously gave us his time for this interview over email) but is fluent in Auslan and enjoys the rich cultural experience of being part of the Deaf community. His wife of 47 years Diana, and her family, are deaf and he has enjoyed a four-decade-long association with Deaf sports administration. Most recently he has taken up an exciting new role as Deaf Santa, delighting children―with hearing and without―in Westfield shopping centres at Christmas.

So, while his goals for receiving a cochlear implant were not to progress spoken language, James’ love of music and the support of his family encouraged him to pursue the surgery, aged 68.

During his working life as a professional heavy vehicle driver, James eventually lost his hearing altogether. But he didn’t let that get in the way of his career. He was the first deaf driver to drive a B-double and roadtrain in Australia and has been inducted into the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.

When he contacted NextSense to ask, ‘will I ever hear again?’ our team tested his cochlea. Results indicated he was a candidate for a cochlear implant, so James proceeded and was implanted in February 2022.

His NextSense cochlear implant rehabilitation therapist Sharon Hurt says supporting James involved tailoring rehabilitation to his circumstances and goals.

‘From the outset in his audiology and rehabilitation sessions, James had very realistic expectations that he may not recognise many spoken words, but he’s delighted that he is able to recognise words of familiar songs when streaming music and following the lyrics to songs,’ Sharon says.

‘We’ve supported James to enjoy music, listen to live music at concerts, and hear environmental sounds like the birds in the garden.’

When his cochlear implant was first switched on, James told his NextSense audiologist that the first music he wanted to listen to was ‘Wind beneath my wings’, which he had previously only heard very slightly using a hearing aid.

‘When my audiologist Ashni switched on the music, I was stunned to hear such a beautiful song, I was in tears,’ James wrote.

A week later he attended his first musical, the Phantom of the Opera, by himself. He describes what he heard:

‘I could hear very soft music and people chatting in the dark, relaxing light mood music and the orchestra tuning up. Then suddenly I heard a powerful voice and sound popped and made me jump out of my seat! It was a shock, like a big boom. I was crying with happiness.

‘The old lady next to me gripped my arm and asked me sweetly “are you ok?”, so I grabbed my pen from my shirt pocket and wrote on my theatre ticket that it was the first time I had heard live music in my life.’

This moment is seared in James’ memory as the beginning of his new world with a cochlear implant.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the voices of my adult children—it shocked me that our daughter has a beautiful voice and our son has a very deep voice that I never knew!

— James

‘I have high respect and thanks to by NextSense surgeon for giving me another life chapter in a new world, Thank you.’

‘If they asked me about cochlear implant many years ago, I would have said “no” but with society today and the latest technologies for deaf people, I said “yes”.’

James is now enjoying the benefits of his new implant while retaining his deep connection to the Deaf community and his commitment to also communicating using Auslan

NextSense has Australia’s largest CI program 

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