March 2017 Mount Olive Chronicle

In the past, Amanda Richard could hear the garbage truck passing by her Flanders home but she couldn’t hear the birds singing outside. While in high school, the young girl, known to friends and family as “Mandy,” found it was getting harder to hear some words or follow conversations with friends. She was diagnosed with progressive bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. She could hear most low frequency sounds with lower pitches, like trucks and drums. But she couldn’t discern high frequency sounds like whistling, bells and the ding of a microwave oven. Richard tried hearing aids but they did not offer much help because the sound-amplifying device could not sufficiently raise high-frequency sounds to improve understanding of speech, especially when there is any kind of background noise.

Richard said she reached her bottom when she was 21, on a day in 2005 when she was soon to graduate from the College of New Jersey with a degree in graphic design. She was in a parking lot with her mother, sobbing and losing hope of ever hearing the way most people can. 

Amanda RichardRichard has since received a hybrid cochlear implant. She still has a way to go but the implant has opened a new world of sounds to Richard, now 33. Needless to say, deciding to have a cochlear implant was a very hard decision. The implant is surgery and it is permanent with all the risks that accompany any surgery, including possible loss of all hearing. There are no test runs. “As someone who has relied on what little hearing I did have for so long, it’s scary thinking that what if I lose the hearing I do have and it’s worse? So yes, I was really scared,” she said. But she went on with the surgery and the implant was activated a month later. 

The difference in hearing was subtle at first and not as life-changing as Richard had expected. “It was more just trying to make sense of what I was hearing,” she said. There were a few ah-ha moments after the implant was working. First when she heard the microwave beeping in her apartment. Then the moment her fiancé was talking in the living room with his back to Richard and she could hear him perfectly.

“I know I hear so much better with the cochlear implant. It’s amazing technology and it makes everything clear again,” she said. “So how has my life changed? It is a big question, but I feel like it’s brought back my confidence. When you lose your hearing, it can be very isolating and make you feel alone. It’s frustrating to not be able to go to certain events and enjoy them as everyone else can. My cochlear implant is slowly and surely bringing that back to me.”

Richard’s audiologist, Danielle Powell, said “People say the first sounds they hear are like Darth Vader or the Charlie Brown cartoons.”  A multi-center study reported in July 2015 by specialists at NYU Langone Medical Center, found that people like Richard achieved significant improvements in their hearing and understanding of speech with hybrid cochlear implants. Richard also has become an active volunteer with the Cochlear Awareness Network. “I am very passionate about helping people now with similar hearing loss,” she said. “Having a disability has also opened my life to be an advocate for all people with disabilities.”