Nov 2019 WOODTV.com

Stephen Kesler used to come home from work and turn the faucet on and off, just to hear the sound of the water rushing into the sink. It’s a sound he couldn’t hear for 15 years. Kesler is a veteran, and like more than 2.7 million other veterans, he suffers from hearing loss. Perhaps he would have lost his hearing even if he hadn’t served in the military, but his service placed him around heavy, loud equipment for many years. His hearing was perfect when he started. “They would have the other guns and the battery firing while you were working on something. The concussions and everything, you could feel all of that,” Kesler explained of his first assignment out of basic training.

It wasn’t until much later, in 1992, that he realised he wasn’t hearing all the sounds everyone else was hearing. “My wife said to me, ‘why don’t you answer the doorbell when it rings?’ Because we were in an apartment, and I said I didn’t hear the doorbell ring,” he said. The situation continued to decline until Kesler had lost almost all his hearing, which was extremely isolating. “I was having more and more problems communicating. At home, when the phone would ring, it got to the point where I couldn’t use it anymore. I was becoming more withdrawn. Anyone with hearing loss, they withdraw into themselves”, Kesler explained.

All of that changed in 2007 when he got his first Cochlear implant, which he calls a rebirth of his hearing. Suddenly, he could hear the wind chimes in a gentle breeze, and the birds chirping outside.  Although, there was a learning curve for his brain at first. “You know how loud it is at Niagara Falls? After my implants were first activated, I went to use the restroom and flushed the toilet. It sounded like I was in Niagara Falls, in the Maid of the Mist. I almost jumped on the toilet seat it was so loud,” he said. It took a few days for his brain to recalibrate how it processed all those sounds it hadn’t heard in so long.

Now, Kesler helps other people who are at the beginning of the process to regain their hearing. He has spent the last nine years as a volunteer, working as the national person of contact for the Veteran Administration Healthcare System by engaging with veteran cochlear implant recipients. He also points them to additional resources they may not know about. “The inside of me, my heart, it’s like an ultimate high that I can give back to people and make their journey to hearing back to hearing as easy as possible. Every time I get a chance to answer an email, or communicate directly with a person, it’s kind of like an adrenaline rush to know that I’ve helped them seek answers to their possible hearing solution,” he said.

Kesler is from Hastings. He completed basic training in Fort Carson, Colorado, then enlisted in military school and was assigned to West Point. He spent time serving in Germany, New York and Texas over the next 27 years. He was in a heavy vehicle maintenance unit, military logistics positions and a senior enlisted adviser in a large equipment storage and issue organisation. He retired in 1997.

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