Feb 2019 Bryan-College Station Eagle

For much of her life, Laura Smith did not know the sound of her footsteps, but that changed in fall 2017 when she received her cochlear implant.  Since she was about 7 years old, the Texas A&M freshman has had 50 percent hearing loss in her right ear, but it was not until 2017 that she and her family decided to move forward with getting a bone-anchored hearing aid. Along with the improved hearing, Smith’s Cochlear Baha hearing aid also made her eligible for the Anders Tjellström scholarship from Cochlear Americas, which will provide her $2,000 each year as she continues her studies in engineering with plans to get into the mechanical track. 

Smith’s hearing loss was discovered when she failed a hearing test at school and went to a doctor to have further tests done. As a child, she had chronic ear infections and also developed an ear growth, but she is not sure which caused her hearing loss or if it was a combination. Her hearing loss is mechanical, which means sound is conducted well by the bones in her ear but gets lost once it goes through the ear tunnel. The hearing aid amplifies the sound, making it clearer and louder. 

“Everything was really loud,” the New Orleans native said. “I wasn’t used to hearing my own footsteps. I would hear things like off in the distance, out of this direction,” motioning to the right side. “I would keep turning my head just because I wasn’t used to hearing all these little sounds.” 

It took a couple weeks, she said, for everything to start sounding normal to her. While she did not have a problem hearing teachers in school before the implant, she said, the biggest impact has been in social situations and in groups of people. 

“If someone was sitting on the right side of me, I would have to turn my head to point my good ear toward them to talk to them,” she said.  It would happen most often when someone was talking quietly or had a particularly low voice. “It’s definitely nice to look at people in the face when I’m talking to them,” Smith said about life after the hearing aid. “Someone’s coming up behind me and calling my name, I’ll actually turn around and hear them. Before that, I would just be like, ‘Did I hear my name? I’m not sure, I’m just going to keep walking.’ ”

Though she did not want to get a hearing aid when she was younger, she wants people to know they should not be embarrassed or afraid to get an implant if they need it. “Now that I have one, I realise what I was missing out on,” she said. Plus, Smith said, she and her dad now joke that since getting the surgery she is bionic.

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