Grace, 86, from Nyngan in outback NSW, reached an important milestone earlier this year—her 100th ‘mapping’ session for her cochlear implant.
Mapping is a term used to describe the way cochlear implant devices are programmed to each individual user. The process, which has to be repeated over time by an audiologist, allows the person using it to continue to be able to hear a wide range of sounds.
Grace, a former nurse, had her 100th mapping session 22 years after she first received her surgery with pioneering cochlear implant surgeon Professor Bill Gibson, who was instrumental in the establishment of the NextSense Cochlear Implant program in 1984. Back then it was known as the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre.
‘It’s still just as good as the day I got it, I’ve had no problem with hearing since,’ Grace says.
‘Professor Gibson gave me such reassurance about the cochlear implant surgery, that [the idea of surgery] didn’t worry me one bit, I had no fear. And my surgery was funded by Medicare.’
After years of gradually increasing hearing loss, Grace was amazed to encounter a whole new world of sound so quickly after her surgery.
‘I was in Gladesville, Sydney for an appointment with my audiologist and afterwards, I walked under a tree, and I could hear all this noise. I couldn’t work it out, then I looked up, and it was a beehive in the tree. When I came back the next morning, my audiologist said “no, there aren’t any bees”, so I showed them. They were amazed I could pick up the buzzing sound so quickly.’
There were more strange noises when Grace went home, ‘I looked for days to find out what a noise was…it turned out to be a frog croaking! I was so lucky to be able to pick up specific sounds.’
People adapt to their implants in different ways. For Grace, the transition was smooth.
‘I watched tv and could hear different sounds. High-pitched sounds were a bit different, and with people’s voices, if someone spoke extremely softly, that was hard, but I had no problems learning to use my implant.’
As a child, Grace experienced abscesses in both ears, along with Meniere’s disease. As her hearing loss continued, she learned to lip read and used some Auslan signs as an adult.
But she found it increasingly difficult to hold a conversation and stopped doing everyday things like grocery shopping, because she couldn’t hear.
‘My family couldn’t understand—I couldn’t hear what they were saying, which was hard. In the end family didn’t come to visit because they couldn’t talk to me. It was very difficult,’ she says.
I just wanted to hold a conversation—I wanted my life back, to not have to avoid people.
Grace initially travelled to Gladesville for her mapping sessions but has since received support from the NextSense outreach team in Dubbo for several years, including for two upgrades to her device.
We conduct outreach visits to various parts of Australia so our clients can receive the services they need without always having to travel to capital cities.
‘Today I am really, really pleased with my cochlear implant, and the people who have supported me from NextSense are so kind,’ she says.
‘Everyone I talk to wants to know what the thing on my head is, so I tell them that I’m deaf and they can’t believe that a little thing can do so much!
‘I can go anywhere and do anything I want to do with my cochlear implant. I’m thrilled… it’s really made a difference for me, it’s amazing.’
Grace is such an advocate that she has shared her experiences with many other people who were profoundly deaf
‘I want to help people, to know what it’s like. There is one Dubbo man and his wife I spoke with, and the man decided to investigate getting a cochlear implant. Today that man is so thrilled because he can hear his wife. He never stopped thanking me.’