St George and Sutherland Shire Leader August 2017

You can read the full story of Norm Heldon at this link: Leader Article - George Heldon

More than one reason to celebrate: Norman Heldon at his 100th birthday celebration at Loftus Community Hall on August 5. Photo: Picture: Kat Stanley Photography

Norm Heldon

May 2017 Townsville Bulletin

Two-year-old Hamish Budden gave his mum a gift more precious than gold when he said “I love you” clearly for the first time. And while those three words ring sweet with all parents, it was made all the more special because Hamish was born deaf. Hamish is one of 19 children and 10 adults who have been surgically fitted with a cochlear implant at The Townsville Hospital since the service first started two years ago, an experience that his mum Lorna described as “wonderful”. “The day Hamish went in for surgery was scary; it was a big change,” she said. “When he had the surgery done 12 months ago all he could say was ‘ah’. Now he sings the ABC song and says ‘I love you’; his receptive language is above average and his expressive language is almost where it needs to be. “Our speech therapist has said by the time he’s in kindy there will be no signs at all that he is deaf.”

Lorna said she would always remember when her family first realised the device was making a difference. “We were playing in the backyard when a cockatoo squawked and flew overhead,” she said. “Hamish looked up from where he was playing to look for the bird. I just felt like cheering; he was discovering this whole new dimension to the world.”

Paediatric audiologist Sreedevi Aithal said the past two years of the service running had been extremely rewarding. “It’s very fulfilling being able to provide a service to people that makes such a profound impact on their lives, as well as their loved ones’ lives. The service is going extremely well; we have seen patients from all age groups and all of them are on target with their hearing development.”

Lorna said she was grateful for the help she had received from the unit after Hamish’s hearing issue was picked up during routine newborn hearing screening. “It was initially devastating finding out that Hamish was deaf because of the extra challenges we knew he’d have to face in life,” she said. “However, because it was picked up so early through the newborn screening he had hearing aids fitted at nine weeks old and we were able to ensure he had access to both verbal and visual language straight away.”

June 2017 9News, SBS, Sky News, Northern Star

Hundreds of cochlear implant patients are receiving new and improved devices thanks to a New South Wales government grant. Sydney artist Angie Goto received the upgraded device nine years after getting her outdated cochlear implant. “You guys take it for granted listening,” Ms Goto told 9NEWS. “Where with deaf people, we’re always concentrating, listening and lip reading.” The new implants also provide patients with Bluetooth and wireless connectivity making simple tasks like using the phone or watchingtelevision even easier.

The state government is funding $2.8 million to deliver 370 public patients of all ages across New South Wales with the technology - the most advanced in implants. Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the new device would be a “giant leap”. “It’s one small step for the individual – but it’s actually a giant leap for everyone around them because it connects them,” Mr Hazzard said. "Every single hearing-impaired adult patient in the NSW public health system will now be able to continue to enjoy the quality of life that this amazing Australian invention provides.”

When Ms Goto tried the device for the first time, she was surprised by its clarity. “Wow! It’s very clear. Wow, it’s a much better microphone,” she said. She even marvelled at being able to hear her husband’s voice as well as noisy construction work.

Audiologist Jane Brew said it was “special” to see the huge impact the new technology is having on people’s lives. “Just being able to see the impact that this technology can make for people is super special,” Ms Brew said. 

Jane BrewFunding will allow the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIBDC) to purchase and coordinate the replacement of up to 370 cochlear sound processors for NSW public patients before they become obsolete at the end of 2019.

The replacement of the sound processor will be done free of charge at a patient's routine audiology appointment and does not require extra surgery. RIBDC's Chief Executive Chris Rehn said the upgrades will be life-changing for recipients - it will greatly improve their social life and, for some, enable them to stay in the workforce.

"This significant funding boost means that hundreds of NSW Cochlear implant recipients will be able to remain connected and continue to enjoy a world of better hearing," Mr Rehn said.

May 2017 Derby Informer

Casey Combs graduated from the University of Kansas with her doctorate in audiology. Less than two percent of Americans have a doctorate degree. The gruelling extra years of classes, papers and work make many people shudder. Combs, however, is an exception. She reached the highest level of education, and she did it with a disability. Combs became deaf when she was four years old. “As a young child, I knew I had to work hard to be equal to my peers,” Combs said. Because of her perseverance and determination to not let her disability interfere with her dreams, Combs can now help other people with hearing loss.

She was not born deaf. At 2 years old, she lost all hearing out of her left ear and partial hearing out of her right ear due to a virus. Her mother realized something was wrong when Combs wasn’t speaking. She wore hearing aids until she was 4 years old until the virus came back and took the rest of her hearing. Her first language was sign language, and she took speech therapy every day from preschool until second grade. “When you have a deaf child, you don’t realise how much children learn from their environment,” said Combs’ mother Dianna Pyles-Tauer. “A deaf child has to be taught everything.”

She got her first cochlear implant when she was 4, and she was the first child in Kansas to receive one. “Cochlear implants are very different from hearing aids,” Combs said. “People think cochlear implants for hearing loss is like putting on glasses, which is not true.” Combs couldn’t distinguish the sounds she heard. She had to go through auditory therapy and train her brain to recognise and differentiate between sounds. “At first, everything sounded ‘ping-pongy’ like at an arcade,” she said. “Speech didn’t sound like speech because it is such a complex sound. It is harder to distinguish.” When she started to recognise it, all speech sounded high or what she refers to as “Mickey Mouse voices.”

While at Derby Hills Elementary School, she worked with speech language pathologist Jean Fisher and special education teacher Sandy Chichester. “Sandy and Jean are like my second moms,” Combs said. “They had tough love. If I made a mistake or mispronounced a word, they made me fix it and then do it 10 more times perfectly.” Fisher and Chichester both came to Combs’s graduation. They have worked with Combs since she was 3 years old. “It was absolutely the most  overwhelming, incredible experience of my professional life,” Chichester said. “I was just in awe.”

Casey CombsSpecial Education teacher Sandy Chichester left, speech pathologist Jean Fisher with longtime student Casey Coombs at her graduation.

Chichester remembers when Combs told her in sixth grade that she wanted to be an audiologist.

“I kept thinking all along how are you going to do that,” Chichester said. “That is going to be a difficult field for you.” Audiologists have to be able to listen well, converse and understand deaf people who don’t know sign language. Most of the sounds that Combs knows are not from hearing them, but from learning the sounds from her teachers and family. “She was always terrible at understanding men’s voices,” Chichester said.

Combs didn’t have a lot of men to talk to at the elementary school. All of her teachers were female. Her brother would sit down and help her, and current Superintendent Craig Wilford would come to the school and read out loud so Combs could practice hearing a man’s voice. “By the time I was in first grade, I could read at a fifth grade level,” Combs said.

At 17 years old, Combs had the chance to get a cochlear implant for her other ear. Her doctor told her she would never be able to hear out of the other ear even with the implant, but she decided to do it anyway. “I told her you never let other people tell you what you are going to become,” Chichester said. “She learned to persevere.” Fisher remembers when Combs participated in a speech contest in high school, and she won. “She has always been very driven,” Fisher said. “She works very hard for whatever it is she wants.” Throughout her senior year of high school, she shadowed Fisher and Chichester after going to school in the morning. “Had it not been for those two, we would not have had the outcome we have now,” Pyles-Tauer said.

To this day, most people who meet Combs wouldn’t know she was deaf after talking with her.

She graduated from Derby High School in 2009 and went to the University of Kansas for her undergraduate and doctorate degrees. Although she has attained a lot of success, Combs still struggles with different aspects of her hearing and the social stigma that goes with her disability.

She still has trouble determining where sound comes from or distinguishing sound in a noisy environment. Just a couple of years ago she heard the sound of water for the first time. “She is still discovering sounds that she wasn’t aware of,” Fisher said.

Combs will start her dream job as an audiologist in June at a private ear, nose and throat clinic in Tyler, Texas. In the future, she sees herself becoming a specialist in cochlear implants or doing research about hearing loss. “I am thankful that I can use my hearing loss to help other people,” Combs said.