Although this site is dedicated to Ellie, I thought I would write a little about my experience with the cochlear implant. Ours is a unique situation since both Ellie and I have been implanted.
I was born hearing, but during my childhood years began to have a progressive hearing loss that went undetected until I was almost 20 years old. Raised orally, I learned how to speak and read lips in order to get by. I guess I really never knew how bad my hearing loss was because I had learned to accommodate for it at such a young age.
During my sophomore year at Eastern Illinois University, I began to really struggle with my hearing loss. Sitting in a lecture hall with 450 students and trying to listen to my professor with desks moving, papers shuffling and others talking around me was quite a challenge. I quickly realized that in order to be able to continue my education, I needed to be fit with hearing aids. My parents took me to Shea Clinic in Tennessee, where they discovered that I had a sensory neural hearing loss. Basically, I had nerve damage and my hair cells were falling out rapidly. The doctors there prescribed my first set of hearing aids.
This was a very difficult time in my life. Being only 20 and a college student, I was embarrassed about my hearing aids, even though they greatly assisted me. Now I look back and recognize how foolish I was.
We decided to have Ellie implanted because she didn’t benefit from her hearing aids and I recognized how difficult my own hearing impaired life had been. I wanted her life to be easier than mine had been. I didn’t want her to struggle like I had.
While Ellie was doing wonderfully, I was doing terribly. My hearing loss seemed to be worse with each passing day. As I was losing my hearing, I was losing myself. From 1993-1999, my hearing decreased rapidly and I went profoundly deaf (without hearing aids) for almost two years. I had always been such a social, outgoing person. But because I couldn’t hear or participate normally in the world around me, I began to isolate myself. I became very sensitive and overly emotional. Eventually, I became depressed. I was so focused on trying to help Ellie that I felt a huge sense of guilt about trying to help myself. I felt as though I was swimming in a stormy sea with Ellie on top of my shoulders. It was the most overwhelming experience of my life. I expended so much energy trying to save her that I barely had the energy to help myself. It was at this time in my life that I realized I couldn’t deal with things by myself, and I reached out to God. Without Him, I don’t know where I would be today. I am a very blessed person who has so much to be thankful for.
Through prayer and the assistance of God, I was shown the path I needed to follow. My decision to be implanted may have been easier than most because I had the benefit of seeing how great Ellie was progressing and adjusting.
I have been implanted for nearly five years and it has been the greatest gift I have ever received. My implant has truly given me back my life. I hear, speak, listen and communicate with everyone around me with little effort. I can hear birds chirp, dogs bark, horns honk, music, the keys click on a keyboard, emergency vehicles, the timer on my oven, water run, the door bell ring, the ice maker and rain, to name just a few. From the moment I was hooked-up, I loved my implant. Looking back, I recognize that I was determined to make my implant successful. My experiences since being implanted have been amazing and difficult to put into words. Although my audiogram still indicates a mild hearing loss, I couldn’t be happier. With each passing day, hearing gets better and better, and my listening skills have become more refined over the past several years.
n February of 2005, I won the National Inspirational Deaf Person of the Year Award (out of several hundred applicants) by Oticon.
Adult Category Winner, Michelle Tjelmeland of Springfield, IL
Michelle, who is profoundly deaf, has been called “an example of positive attitude and fortitude, displayed with a keen sense of humor.” Mother of Ellie, age 7, who is also deaf, and Lucy, age 4, Michelle channeled her energies into creating a successful Web development and consulting firm, e-websmart. She is winner of numerous awards including Small Business Owner of the Year by the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Golden Web Award by the International Association of Web Masters & Designers and the “40 under 40 Award” by the Springfield Business Journal. Through her Web site iloveellie.com, Michelle shares her experiences with hearing loss as an individual and mother.
Like the character, George, from It’s a Wonderful Life, each time I hear a bell ring, I realize the full significance. I have earned my wings by triumphing over a tough assignment in my life. My struggles along the way have made me a better person, and I have found my own rewards and gifts—life, redemption and freedom from the silence that once confined me.