May 2019 Chicago Tribune

At one point, Glenbrook South High School special education teacher Terry Harris would have to stand close to the student who was speaking to make sure he could understand them. After being diagnosed as a child with “profound” hearing losses in both of his ears, about five years ago he lost the little hearing he had in his right ear. “A light switch went off,” said Harris, who is also a baseball coach. “The little hearing that I had in my right ear just disappeared. Gone.”

After visiting a few specialists, Harris said he was referred to Dr. Michael Shinners, the director the cochlear implant program at NorthShore University HealthSystem, who recommended that Harris undergo the procedure for cochlear implants.

Terry Harris

Depending on the type, the total cost of a cochlear implant is between $30,000 and $100,000. In 2015, Harris underwent the implant surgery on his right ear and two years later he had it on his left ear. With implants in both ears, Harris said he is now able to localise the direction of a sound.

“As far as the hearing, comparing a hearing aid to a cochlear implant it’s been life-changing,” Harris said. “You don’t know what you’re losing until you get it back.”

Harris has dealt with hearing impairment just about all of his life. When he was 4 years old, he said, Harris was diagnosed with a bilateral hearing loss. His left ear was diagnosed with a “profound hearing loss” and his right ear was diagnosed with a “severe-profound” hearing loss, so he was fitted with a hearing aid for his right ear. Growing up, he attended a school for the hard-of-hearing through third grade, and then went to public schools in Michigan, where he grew up. In high school, he was the starting quarterback for the varsity football team wearing a hearing aid, and if it stopped working during a game the team would use hand signals to communicate with him, Harris said. Harris learned to adopt to his environment and relied on lip reading when he couldn’t distinguish between sounds, he said. “Knowing then what I know now, I would’ve done this [implant surgery] a long time ago, in a heartbeat,” Harris said.

After the procedure, Harris said he had “homework” to listen to different sounds to get used to the implants. He would listen to audio books, watch Netflix, TED Talks, go to a coffee shop to register different sounds. Since his procedure, Harris said he has taught his students about the implants, and he also visits the American Sign Language classes to teach the unit on cochlear implants.

This school year, Harris has visited a brain studies class to talk about the brain and hearing, he said.

Most people know that if a child is born deaf, a cochlear implant is an option, Shinners said. The doctor said that what is less known is that as people age and experience hearing loss, cochlear implants are still an option. Medical professionals are trying to reach out to adults to let them know that cochlear implants are available to them, but little progress has been made, Shinners said.

“Roughly all adults that currently are a candidate for an implant, 5 to 6 percent have one and that’s no better than 20 years ago. No better. We’ve made no progress,” Shinners said.

For Harris, another benefit of getting the implants has been moving through the building and hearing clearly, especially places like the cafeteria, auditorium and the gym — which he said has boost his confidence. “I have students in my classroom with some communication or speech difficulties. Being able to hear more clearly allows me to better communicate with those students, as well as all students,” Harris said. At the beginning of every school year, Harris said he educates his students about his hearing and does a short presentation on what cochlear implants are, how they work and about his hearing history. “I use my experiences as an individual with a hearing loss to teach self-determination, compensatory skills to overcome our challenges, and self-advocacy skills. My students are very comfortable asking me questions as I am very comfortable answering them and having a discussion with them,” Harris said.

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