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'Ear implants restored my hearing'

By Joshua Foreman for CNN

Joshua Foreman: "The more technology evolves, the better I am able to hear."


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(CNN) -- Joshua Foreman, 14, was born profoundly deaf. He now has a cochlear implant fitted in each of his ears, and was one of the first people to have two implants fitted. The implants send electronic impulses of sound past his damaged auditory nerves to his brain, letting him hear again. Here is his story:

When I was about eight months old, my mum and dad began noticing that I wasn't responding to loud noises. A dog would bark, the doorbell would go or the vacuum cleaner would be on and I just wouldn't respond. I had some tests, which showed that I was born profoundly deaf.

My parents did some research into cochlear implants and when I was two and a half, I had my first implant fitted. Hearing aids are designed to amplify sound, but for me, they aren't much use because sound is still being delivered through a damaged part of the ear. A cochlear implant doesn't make sounds louder -- it bypasses the damaged part of the ear and sends sound directly to the auditory (hearing) nerve to provide a clearer understanding of sound and speech.

Hearing people have 200,000 hairs in their ears -- I have none. Cochlear implants simulate the function of 24 of those hairs. Part of the system is external, but most of it resides deep in the ear. The outside part houses the microphone, battery and electronics, which take sounds and transform them to electronic signals. Back when I had my first implant, the external parts were housed in a backpack that I would wear on my back. Over time the equipment has become smaller and these days it all sits behind the ear, in a piece of equipment about the size of a hearing aid.

By the time I went to school, I could hear but I needed to learn to speak. Unlike other children, I needed to learn how to interpret sounds. With a deaf child, you don't learn by osmosis.

When I was 11, I had the second implant. I was one of the first people ever to have two cochlear implants. It's not just a matter of wearing it -- I had to have lessons to learn how to use it too. It's quite complex. It's a bit like someone giving you a piano -- it's no good unless you have lessons too. It has to be tuned and I have to put new batteries in every few days. If I don't, I can't hear a thing, which is really annoying.

When I get up in the morning I put my earpieces in -- without them I am completely deaf. Even if I was standing right next to a jumbo jet, I wouldn't be able to hear a thing. I can adjust the volume depending on the situation.

In the early days wearing the backpack was a bit of a nuisance. It was better than not being able to hear, but when it came to doing physical activities, like gymnastics, it was a bit restrictive. These days, I play lots of sport, tennis, hockey and soccer. I like to give most things a try.

In school, I make sure I sit at the front of the class. My teachers used to wear an "FM" microphone system, which would send sounds direct to my cochlear implants. Having two cochlear implants means I no longer need them to do that. I can pick up more sounds and easily locate where they are coming from. Before I would often have to say, "Pardon," and if someone called my name, I wouldn't really know what direction they were calling from.

It's so much easier having two implants. I am so grateful that this technology is evolving so quickly. It is making my everyday life so much better. The more technology evolves, the better I am able to hear. For me, it's a bit like having to take medication on a daily basis -- instead of taking pills, I need to put on my earpieces.

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