An adult who grew up severe to profound hearing loss

My story began in the 1950's when my hearing loss was diagnosed prior to entering first grade.  Already this little girl was speech reading and fooling her family who suspected for quite some time she wasn't hearing perfectly.  I remember like yesterday the day I was fit with my first hearing aid, finding it a wonderful game of "what is that sound" on the trip home.  I had never heard the engine of my fathers car!  Unfortunately, my loss rapidly deteriorated to severe to profound over a 10 year period.  I was deaf by age 15, speechreading most all spoken words.  The good news is that my parents understood the importance of making sure I had access to sound and they made my hearing a priority to the detriment of other things the family might have enjoyed or needed.

Twelve years ago I became the recipient of a cochlear implant.  I was 51 years old, deaf since age 15.  I remained in the oral world, struggling to hear with each new advancement in hearing aid technology and other assistive technology.  I reached the end of the road in the early 1990's and seriously considered disability retirement from my State job.  But then, I realized this was not the life I wanted, despite the fact my insurance had a specific exclusion for cochlear implant surgery.  Fortunately I found a NIH clinical trial for an updated cochlear implant device in 1996.  I owe my surgeon and his research team with NIH, the citizens of Iowa and the Iowa Lions Club gratitude for their support of the U of Iowa Cochlear Implant Center which helped fund my Cochlear Implant.  In three short months I went from 6% speech recognition to 96% and could talk on the telephone for the first time in many years.  For five long years I sought to educate  the Employee Trust Fund benefit managers on why this benefit is so important.  I am pleased to say that in 2002 the hearing aid benefit was restored to the state public worker insurance benefit and in 2003 cochlear implant surgery became a covered benefit as well.

I continue the fight for the rest of WI children who's parents have coverage, but the insurer does not provide this important benefit.  The cost to society for NOT providing this benefit is far too great to ignore.  We as taxpayers pay the price for allowing the powerful insurance companies to get away with ignoring this importnat benefit by calling the hearing aid "cosmetic" or the cochlear implant surgery "experimental"!  There is nothing cosmetic about a small device in my ear that allows me to hear speech and environmental sounds that keep me safe from harm! Far from experimental, cochlear implants have been approved since the early 1990's for adults and children as appropriate intervention for severe to profound hearing loss.

My cochlear implant journey would not be so successful had it not been for my parents who made sure my hearing needs were met, no matter what cost to them.  It is WRONG that parents should have to foot this cost and let the insurance industry off the hook!  If I had been born with any other birth defect, there would be no question surgical intervention to correct it would be covered.  If I lost a limb, a prosthetic device would allow me to walk.  A cochlear implant is a hearing prosthesis and deserves to be covered.  Not to do so is like telling a person with no leg that they must purchase a prosthesis or go without.  Carol Burns, Mt. Horeb, WI