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How Elizabeth overcame her fear of surgery 

Elizabeth knew a cochlear implant could address her hearing loss but was reluctant to have one. What changed her mind?
Photo of Elizabeth standing and smiling in front of the beach, wearing a pink polo neck top.
  • Hearing

As a nurse, Elizabeth Ellis has had plenty of exposure to surgery. But when it came to her own health and the prospect of addressing her hearing loss, she was reluctant to be a surgical patient.

Although back in 2008 her audiologist suggested cochlear implant surgery, she elected to continue on with her hearing aids, even though they were becoming less and less powerful.

‘I was worried about the risk of rejection or it not working and because at the time I was managing. My fear was very real, but probably irrational - so I delayed it and always said I will never have anything done until there's no other option,’ Elizabeth says.

But her hearing continued to deteriorate, and eventually she found that hearing aids were no longer enough.

‘Eventually there was nothing I could do—there were no hearing aids strong enough. The biggest challenge was the phone. I was using a telecoil and struggling. Lots of times I couldn't manage,’ she says.

So, in 2013, Elizabeth decided to go ahead with a cochlear implant on her right side. By that time, she wasn’t nervous, because ‘I knew I needed to have it’.

She underwent the procedure at a WA private hospital. The surgery went smoothly, and she was out of the hospital the next day.

Once her cochlear implant was switched on, Elizabeth threw herself into listening exercises and quickly began to adjust to the new sounds.

‘It was far better, than I ever imagined. When you have struggled all your life, you don't know any difference. Life to me was a breeze. I didn't realise what strain I had put myself under by not having it [the cochlear implant],’ she says

Elizabeth has had hearing loss all her life. As a teenager, she underwent bilateral stapedectomies and began to intermittently use hearing aids as her career began.

As a nurse, she used her lived experience to support others with hearing loss to have a better quality of life. She applied her knowledge and skills by becoming President of Better Hearing Australia, teaching lip reading, and working with an audiologist and an ear nose and throat surgeon.

But over the years Elizabeth noticed she was finding it harder to hear, despite upgrading her hearing aids frequently.

After her cochlear surgery, Elizabeth functioned well for several years by relying on a combination of her cochlear implant on the right ear and hearing aid on the left. But then, as her hearing on the left side began to deteriorate and she could not hear on the phone, Elizabeth knew it was time to get a second implant.

In 2019, then living in Wollongong NSW, Elizabeth was referred to NextSense. After a series of tests, surgeon Associate Professor Jonathan Kong implanted her second device.

‘It worked wonderfully. Life is a breeze now. I can hear without concentrating on listening,’ she says. ‘I can now follow the TV and be doing something else at the same time and still understand what they're saying, you know.’

Her NextSense audiologist, Paul Jevelle, says the sound from cochlear implants can take time and practice to get used to, but that ‘Elizabeth’s realistic expectations combined with her diligence for listening and practicing have allowed her to get the most out of her cochlear implants.’

Elizabeth’s results continue to improve as she recognises even more sounds, and she now hears the ocean from her home, for the first time.

‘I used to think, who’s running their air conditioner at 5:00 o'clock in the morning? Then I realised, wow, it is actually the ocean.’

She now shares her story and advice with others considering or getting cochlear implants at the NextSense Discover Hearing Aids events in Wollongong.

‘I now have confidence with my hearing,’ she says. ‘My advice would be to look into it earlier rather than later because many people put it off, just like I did. Gather the information and seek out whether you’re suitable or not.’

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