Working as an audiologist in a university-based clinic, Roisin Higgins is uniquely equipped in her work teaching students and clients about hearing loss.
“I first got hearing aids when I was four years old, which is around when my hearing loss was first diagnosed. It was in December and my new devices really felt like a Christmas present both for me and my family!” recalled Roisin.
In the past few years Roisin’s hearing had begun slowly deteriorating again, after staying stable during early adulthood.
“It was actually everyone wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic that was a big wake up call for me that I wasn’t managing with my hearing as well as I thought I had been,” said Roisin.
“I realised I was relying on lip reading, and my colleagues or friends had to face me in conversations even when we were one-on-one somewhere quiet. It was getting to the point where I thought, ‘I have to do something about this.’”
A conversation with a former university colleague seeking clients for a new cochlear implant program led Roisin to take part in an evaluation. After the hearing tests and other assessments showed she was eligible for a cochlear implant, Roisin went ahead with the surgery for her left side last year at age 30.
Roisin reported the improvement to both her hearing and overall confidence was immediate.
“The moment my cochlear implant was switched on, it was absolutely fantastic because all of a sudden I could hear things I hadn’t heard clearly before,” said Roisin.
“Being an audiologist myself, I went in with very realistic expectations. To hear different pitches straight away, and know that the sounds I was initially hearing were the tones in people’s voices, really blew my mind.
“There were also sounds that felt like a vague memory that quickly came back to me, like birds in the trees or falling rain. Even now I’ll sometimes take off my cochlear implant and see if I can hear something with the hearing aid on my other ear alone. Often the answer is no, and I still have those little moments where I think, ‘Wow, I can hear that!’”
Following her cochlear implant surgery, Roisin began coming to Hear and Say for a series of specialised speech therapy sessions known as auditory learning, a piece of the journey Roisin said was critical to her success.
“It’s been wonderful for me to have that structured learning environment through Hear and Say to help me maximise my potential with my cochlear implant. I wanted the best outcome that I possibly could. I knew it wasn’t just about audiology and ensuring the cochlear implant was adequately programmed, but that whole hearing and speech approach working together,” said Roisin.
“When you stop and think about how many times a day you interact with sounds, it pretty much encompasses your entire life. Whether it be a simple conversation, watching TV or taking a phone call, it’s such a huge part of our day-to-day. The speech therapy appointments really helped to ensure I was getting the most from all those experiences.”
For others thinking about getting a cochlear implant or hearing aids, Roisin encouraged them to jump in and attend that first appointment.
“It gives you an idea of where your hearing is at that point in time, and the ability to communicate is so fundamental to our lives. I was hesitant too but what I’ve found is that people notice when you can’t hear far more than they notice you’re wearing hearing aids,” said Roisin.
“It’s about connecting with everyone that you see every day. For me when I got my cochlear implant, I finally realised what I had been missing out on.”