Dec 2017 Daily Mail Australia
Lewis, 15, has been profoundly deaf since birth, the result of a genetic condition he was diagnosed with at 13 months old. He was raised to be 'deaf and proud' and attends specialist deaf school Mary Hare, in Newbury, Berkshire. But two years ago he decided to have the device fitted in his ear in the hope he would be able to hear his own name for the first time, admitting it was 'like he doesn't have one'. Lewis made the heartfelt confession in the Channel 4 documentary Extraordinary Teens: School of Life and Deaf, moving viewers to tears.
Extraordinary Teens: School of Life and Deaf, which follows a year in their life at specialist deaf school Mary Hare, in Newbury
Dozens took to Twitter to praise the teenager, saying his story was 'so moving'. One tweeted today: 'Eyes still puffy today from crying them out last night for the boy who heard birdsong - and his name - for the first time aged 15.'
Speaking on the show, which followed three students at the school over the course of a year, Lewis explained he had been hesitant about having the implant fitted. They are a sensitive issue among some parts of the deaf community, who regard them as an unwelcome attempt to 'cure' deafness. Lewis' mother Jaime recalled on the show how she watched her son wrestle with his decision. 'I think he felt disloyal to deaf culture by even contemplating it, because he'd been brought up to be deaf and proud - it was a massive step for him to say he was curious,' she said. Lewis explained there was no instant, overnight change as a result of getting the device. Two years on from being fitted, he can still feel like he is 'hitting a wall', or that there is a 'barrier he can't get past’. But it has granted his wish to hear the sound of his parents saying his name - and the sound of birdsong. Lewis says on the show he is keen to emphasise that in every other respect he is no different from any other teenager. 'I can be a bit cheeky and I can be naughty,' he admits. 'I'm just a normal teenager. And no-one wants to be perfect do they?' His ambition is to become a photographer, and Lewis refuses to be held back by his disability. 'I hate it that people think deaf people are stupid and not able to achieve,' he says on the show. 'We are just like anyone else - we just can't hear, that's all.'
Lewis is the only child of Colin Hunt, a courier, 42, and wife Jaime, hairdresser, and his diagnosis came as an immense shock to his parents, neither of whom had any history of hearing problems. Poignantly, he confides that there was one reason in particular that has also pushed him towards the decision to have an implant: he wanted to be able to hear his parents call his name.
'It's like I don't have a name,' he says 'as I've never heard it before.’ An implant is not a panacea though – while many people can hear some sounds straightaway for others it doesn't work at all at first. For some it makes little difference at all, or makes things worse. For Lewis it took time – two years after getting the implant he admits it is still a work in progress - and the documentary does not shy away from the upset and frustrations he experiences as he realises he will require months of intensive speech and language therapy and ongoing testing to see if he will ever hear a full range of sounds. 'I remember the implant being switched on,' he recalls now. 'All I could hear was "beep". I realised that it was training my brain to hear but I was confused and nervous. Some people think that the cochlear implant is going to work straight away after switch-on – you see this kind of thing on social media. I needed time to understand that this wasn't necessarily going to happen to me.'
It has been, he admits, a 'bumpy' road since, and as the months ticked by with only minor improvements to his hearing Lewis struggled to contain his frustration. 'I just get so angry sometimes,' he admits at one point in the documentary. It's like you want it but you can't get it - there's a barrier you can't reach and you feel like you've hit a wall.' Yet there have been beautiful moments too – like the time he discovered he could hear birdsong. 'I recorded a sound and I thought "what is this sound?" and was shocked to hear that it was birds,' he grins. 'And I can hear my own name now which is great.’
Lewis acknowledges that accepting his lack of hearing has become harder as he has gotten older and begun to yearn for more independence. 'For me one of the main things is always having to say 'I'm deaf', when talking to hearing people. I would like not to have to say that.’ In particular he has always struggled with his speech: for many years, when in public environments like shops or transport hubs, Lewis largely communicated by handing over a note – the documentary shows him buying a rail ticket to his school by writing down his destination and handing it to the ticket office.
'If I compare my speech to my friends I'd say their speech is way better than mine,' he admits. 'I hate the word 'can't', I hate feeling like that - I like to be able to do things.’
At Mary Hare, sign language isn't a requirement – while many pupils use it to communicate amongst themselves, lessons are taught through speech – a deliberate decision that is itself the subject of some controversy.'There can be a lot of politics around deaf culture,' admits the school's head teacher Peter Gale. 'There are people who passionately believe that sign language is their natural language and that that is how communication should take place. We have no issue with sign language, but our view is we want our pupils to maximise their potential to speak, lip read and listen and understand and therefore develop good English literacy. It is not an issue that affects the pupils. There are no camps here in terms of friendships or social groups – you could have two best friends one of whom uses sign language a lot and the other of whom is a more typical hands-in-pockets teenager – they don't care which is why it is so frustrating that the adults can care so much.'