Cochlear Implant Amplifies Life
Kelly Gilkey is a loving wife and mother, a biomedical engineer at NASA and a pianist. These accomplishments are impressive in their own right, but Mrs. Gilkey achieved them all while being profoundly deaf.
At age 31, after years of facing tiresome communication barriers at school, work and in family relationships, Mrs. Gilkey decided to look into getting a cochlear implant.
Hearing Aid vs. Cochlear Implant
Kelly Gilkey and family
A hearing aid makes sounds louder as they travel through all the portions of the ear (outer, middle and inner ear) to the auditory nerve. Because aids amplify sounds and rely on the auditory system to convey the message, people with severe to profound hearing loss may be able to hear, but not understand, speech well.
A cochlear implant bypasses these portions of the ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve with electrical energy. Clarity with a cochlear implant usually is better than a hearing aid because the implant doesn’t make sounds louder but delivers them to the auditory nerve.
A Lifetime of Hearing Aids
Mrs. Gilkey’s two older siblings also have hearing loss, even though genetic testing showed no identifiable hereditary characteristics. Their mother, who once worked in an audiologist’s office, created special shoulder harnesses for each of her children to keep their hearing aids in place when they were young.
“My mother was adamant about us wearing our hearing aids all the time – except when we slept, showered and swam,” says Mrs. Gilkey, who has worn hearing aids since she was 18 months old.
Her mother also developed strategies to help her children excel without sound. While playing a musical instrument may have seemed too ambitious a goal for her daughter, Mrs. Gilkey’s mother thought that a piano’s rhythms and tempos would assist her hearing, speech and language development. Mrs. Gilkey has played the piano since she was 4 years old.
She was mainstreamed into a regular school curriculum beginning in kindergarten with the help of friends, teachers and special accommodations. Bullied by other children because of her hearing loss, Mrs. Gilkey stayed tough and learned to ignore teasing and criticism.
To get through school, she used Cued Speech, hand motions, lip-reading and computer-assisted transliteration, but often these efforts were exhausting. “Classes based around discussion were especially fatiguing,” she says.
Years later, while pregnant with her second son, Mrs. Gilkey experienced a serious episode of vertigo and ongoing tinnitus related to her hearing loss – and it didn’t subside after childbirth.
A Dramatic Difference
With two active toddlers, Mrs. Gilkey knew that she needed to be able to communicate with them in an easier way. So on Dec. 16, 2011, Mrs. Gilkey successfully underwent cochlear implant surgery at Cleveland Clinic. Her implant was activated a few weeks later by Rachel Vovos, AuD.
“Hearing my boys for the first time was overwhelming!” Mrs. Gilkey says. She quickly learned how loud her older son can be and how to adjust to subtle environmental sounds like the ticking of a clock.
Since the surgery, Mrs. Gilkey finds that she’s more engaged at work and with the world around her. She continues to stay involved with the Ohio chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and she says that all areas of her life have dramatically improved – most important, her family life.