Nineteen-year-old Ruby has had a gap year that’s different to most: working as a ringer on a 500,000 hectare remote cattle station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Born profoundly deaf, Ruby has bilateral cochlear implants—and she’s grabbing every opportunity possible to chase her dreams.
‘I’m challenged daily, and I love it,’ Ruby says. ‘I’m doing things I never thought I’d be able to do. Every day is different—I could be mustering on a bike, drafting, doing bore runs, branding, dehorning and ear tagging cattle, or doing fence maintenance. It’s a massive operation, in hot, dry, dusty conditions where we process up to 1500 cattle a day.’
Ruby has been passionate about agriculture since childhood, when she helped on the family farm and studied agriculture at boarding school. She has big plans for a career in the industry. And, thanks to all the hard work in adapting to her cochlear implants, she has the foundations in place to see those plans through.
The importance of early screening
Ruby’s hearing loss was detected at six weeks of age. She was diagnosed with profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids at three months. But her parents Mark and Tania soon realised that hearing aids weren’t enough. Extensive testing revealed a near total loss of cochlear function in both ears, meaning Ruby was a candidate for cochlear implants.
‘We experienced a roller coaster of emotions, not knowing what the future would hold for our daughter,’ Tania says. ‘We started researching and reading everything we could get our hands on.’
Having access to resources and dedicated professionals at NextSense gave Tania and Mark the knowledge and confidence to pursue a cochlear implant for Ruby. They were also able to access surgery with no out-of-pocket costs—a huge relief considering the months of air travel to Sydney from their northern NSW home.
They hoped that with access to sound, Ruby would develop speech and participate with her friends in all activities. They also learned sign language to give her a total communication approach and began working with NextSense to prepare for her first surgery and rehabilitation.
They made weekly trips to Sydney for speech pathology, regular MAPping (programming), audiological testing and early intervention support.
At eight months, Ruby received her first implant and became our 1000th cochlear implant recipient.
‘Watching the expression on Ruby’s face when her device was switched-on was incredible!’ Tania says. ‘Her smile lit up the entire room.’
Virtual early intervention services
Although at the time there was no local service (we have since established a presence in northern NSW) Ruby and her family accessed early intervention services virtually, through the NextSense telepractice service.
The family received big blue bags full of toys and a comprehensive lesson plan every week. Then, Ruby and her mum, Tania would have early intervention sessions, or ‘ Zoom lessons’ with their therapist in their own home. The family would then incorporate lesson activities into their week, learning to listen and practicing speech through play.
‘The online support we received was invaluable—a brilliant service,’ Tania says. ‘It was the perfect role modelling with the teacher transferring her knowledge every lesson. Having access to so many resources has supported Ruby to be the strong and confident person she is today.’
Ruby received her second cochlear implant aged seven and was independently managing her device from age 12.
‘It was up to her to charge her batteries, look after her implants at swim training, and ensure she could hear with her helmet on when horse riding,’ Tania says. It hasn’t been an easy road, but Ruby is now extremely independent.’
Ruby takes people’s curiosity about her deafness in her stride.
‘I find as people get to know me, they curiously ask about my hearing aids,’ she says. ‘I generally laugh, correct them, and explain that I was born profoundly deaf and have bilateral cochlear implants!’