Cochlear implant gives the gift of sound
As a healthy and active infant, Monika Coletta appeared to be developing like any other child, recognizing her parents’ faces and responding to their visual cues. It wasn’t until she was nearly nine months old when her parents began to suspect there was a problem with her hearing.
“My parents noticed that when my back was turned I didn’t react when they called my name or when other loud sounds happened in the background,” recalls Coletta. “It was at that time that they took me to see an audiologist.”
Officially diagnosed with a severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, Coletta was fitted with hearing aids and sound arrived to her world the week before her first birthday when they were switched on for the first time. In the same week she began auditory verbal therapy with community-based Auditory Verbal Therapist, Janet Henry, and words quickly and easily followed.
Coletta went on to attend junior kindergarten in a regular school setting, learning at a level on-par with her classmates. Unfortunately, things began to unravel for her midway through the following year. Despite her hearing aids being turned up to the maximum setting, her speech was changing, her hearing was rapidly declining and her frustration with not being able to hear like everyone else was increasing.
It was at this time that her audiologist suggested they look into cochlear implants. Exhaustive research by her mother would lead to an appointment with the cochlear implant program at London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital.
After an initial consultation, Coletta was scheduled for a pre-implant assessment with LHSC Audiologist Kim Zimmerman. It would take nearly two months before they received the news that Coletta qualified as a candidate and a date for surgery was scheduled.
On June 21, 1999, under the skilled hands of Dr. Lorne Parnes, LHSC otolaryngologist and cochlear implant program director, a seven-year-old Coletta underwent the two-hour surgery to successfully implant the internal component of the device. Four weeks later the cochlear implant was turned on and programmed for the first time.
“I remember crying the moment it happened,” says Coletta. “The hearing aids had picked up basic sounds, but nothing comparable to what a cochlear implant picks up. Even though my brain hadn’t completely adjusted to exactly what I was hearing, I knew that I could hear more than I ever had before.”
While the transition to hearing felt overwhelming at times, it was also incredibly exciting.
Coletta fondly recalls, “I distinctly remember hearing the first sound that I didn’t know. It was a crispy fall day and we were outside and I had my whole family stop what they were doing so I could figure out where the sound was coming from. As we all looked around to find something unusual on the ground or in the sky we finally landed on our family dog who was panting. I had no idea that a dog’s panting made a sound and I remember thinking how wonderful that was.”
She had always felt vibrations of the car as it was driving and of the fridge motor kicking on but was amazed to learn that different sounds accompanied these vibrations. To help make sense of the sounds she was learning, Coletta continued auditory verbal therapy.
Today Coletta is a well-spoken 20-year-old business student at Fanshawe College and a world without sound is a distant memory. She has high hopes for her future, which centres on plans to help others.
“I used to spend a lot of time worrying about being different and what other people would think about my implant – if they’d judge me. But over the years I’ve realized that it’s not worth worrying about; I can just choose to surround myself with supportive people who accept me as I am and I’m determined to help others understand that too. People need to know that they are amazing just the way they are.”
Coletta continues to return for annual appointments at LHSC with Zimmerman to review and adjust the programming of her implant.
“It’s really special that we get to form long-term relationships with our patients,” says Zimmerman. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching her grow from a young child who was frustrated by her inability to hear and communicate like everyone else to a thoughtful, intelligent, confident woman who is using her experience to help others become accepting of the things that make them different. It’s moments like these that really solidify why we do what we do.”