Jan 2021 NOLA.com
Perry Hauck hadn’t been able to hear the voice of his 15-year-old grandson, Mason Hauck, in the five years since a gradual hearing loss — even beyond the help of hearing aids — left him resigned to total deafness. He said he would assign voices to those he had never heard, and as Mason aged, his 10-year-old voice remained in Hauck’s mind. But after years of believing that his hearing loss was simply something he had to accept, a neurological procedure and cochlear implant has allowed Hauck, 59, to hear voices again, including Mason’s. “In my mind, he still had the voice of a little boy. It was emotional to hear it for the first time in so many years.” Hauck said since the surgery, hearing Mason, as well as 4-year-old grandson Rowan Christopher's voice for the first time, his wife Jackie’s voice once again and the simple joys — music, the boom of New Year’s Eve fireworks or even the faint sounds of footsteps in the house — have given him “a better outlook on life.”
A resident of Lacombe for the past 20 years, Hauck said he and his neighbour used to joke about who had to shout louder for the other to hear. For Hauck, one hearing aid led to another, and as each failed him, he eventually gave up the devices and opted to use a voice transcription app to communicate. Jackie Hauck said she became accustomed to seeing the top of his head as they conversed — she would say something then he would look down to read the words she spoke.
To cope with the loneliness and isolation his deafness caused, Hauck would work in his woodshed or ride his bike on the Tammany Trace. Cycling is a pastime he developed as an activity to enjoy with Mason, and it grew to become a passion.
While cycling one afternoon in April of 2017, he suffered from a brain heamorrhage stroke, leaving him with extreme loss of balance. Eager to return to cycling, doctors recommended an MRI.
The scan revealed more than just the lingering effects of the stroke. It showed that his hearing loss was from a rare genetic condition called neurofibromatosis or NF2, which had caused benign brain tumours on his hearing nerves, facial nerves and spine.
“I have told people for years to protect their hearing, to be careful not to listen to music or other things too loud. Now, I’m also telling everyone who is experiencing hearing loss not to just assume it is part of life but to find out why it is happening,” Hauck said. Hauck worked with neurotologist Moises Arriaga at CNC Hearing & Balance Center’s Mandeville office, who developed a surgical plan with neurosurgeon Dr. Frank Culicchia.
Hauck received the procedure where Culiccia removed the most nonthreatening tumour, preserving the hearing nerve and the nerve that allows the face to move normally. Preserving the hearing nerve allowed a cochlear implant to be placed in the inner ear to restore Hauck’s hearing.
“Going into the procedure, I was told I may not be able to distinguish speech, so I didn’t get my hopes up,” Hauck said. “I was at peace about it.” But shortly after the surgery, Hauck received a joyful surprise. “I could hear the Christmas song ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ on my wife’s phone. I always was social, and music had a big influence on my life. It was the most wonderful thing to hear music again.”
Jackie Hauck said she is enjoying getting to see her husband’s face during their conversations, and that she rests easier knowing he can hear alarms or a call of warning. “I used to worry about if there was a fire in the middle of the night. When he would sit in the living room, he could not hear anyone or anything," she said. “Now, he hears boots on the floor, and he will call out to me ‘I hear you!.’ It makes me smile.”
Hauck, who suffers from panic attacks and fear of traveling too far from home, found an unexpected benefit of the procedure. There were times when he needed to visit CNC Hearing & Balance Center’s Marrero office, including for the surgery. Hauck said he knew he needed to overcome his fear and anxiety in order to make it from the north shore to the west bank. “I used to be homebound and would have panic attacks over traveling,” he said. “I had not been across the Lake (Pontchartrain) since the moving trucks left Lacombe, much less across the lake and the (Mississippi) River. But now I’ve been over several times. It really is a magical change.”
Hauck will continue to be treated at both the Mandeville and Marrero offices since only the tumour on his right side has been removed. He will eventually undergo a procedure to remove the tumour on the left ear, which is larger and has completely damaged the hearing nerves on that side. But he will not receive another implant.
Hauck said he is making progress each day as he gets acclimated to hearing again. He is also working on regaining the balance that he lost after the stroke. He said he is still hoping he may again be able to cycle, but he is focused on catching up on all the sounds he has missed in the past few years. “There is so much more life in me,” he said. “The implant has helped me see that.”