19-year-old Olivia has a message for teens with hearing loss

Olivia's implant changed her life dramaticallyOlivia's implant changed her life dramatically

Olivia Sharkey was born profoundly deaf in her right ear.  No medical reason could be determined for her hearing loss, and with perfect hearing in her left ear, it was decided that no hearing supports were required.

She excelled at primary school and early high school, and while continuing to have annual hearing tests, Olivia took these to be routine and didn’t expect to be told that anything was different.  When she was sixteen, however, this all changed. 

"In 2015, I went to my routine hearing test, not worried about it at all. Although I had been experiencing some dizziness, I thought this was just due to the existing hearing loss in my right ear" she says. 

At that appointment, Olivia was told that the hearing in her left ear was deteriorating rapidly, and she was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Olivia says that the diagnosis was a difficult one. "I felt so independent, I'd never used a device to support my hearing. I rarely even told people about my hearing loss, so to be told that I was losing my hearing in my good ear and that I would need hearing devices felt overwhelming and scary."

After her diagnosis, Olivia was introduced to a hearing aid but still struggled to hear in everyday life and her hearing continued to deteriorate. In 2017, at the age of 18, it was recommended that a cochlear implant was the best option for Olivia.

"I was initially quite scared by the idea of getting a cochlear implant. It felt so permanent, and I knew there was no way around telling people once I had this done."

But, Olivia says, once she had her first implant in July 2017, her life changed dramatically to a degree she never expected.  "It was hard at first because I had to learn to hear in my right ear, and my RIDBC audiologists were amazing. Once I got the hang of it, my confidence improved and everyday tasks were just easier.

"I was completing my Diploma in Beauty Therapy at the time, and it really helped with my studies as well as my social interactions. I was also worried about having the procedure, but I was actually back on my course just five days after having it.  It was much easier than I had thought it would be."

With her hearing rapidly deteriorating in her left ear, it was decided that Olivia would get a second implant just a few months later, in October 2017. Olivia says while she was still a little nervous because she still had a small amount of hearing in her left ear, she felt comfortable with the procedure itself.

Carmel Ramsey, Olivia's RIDBC Audiologist says "The first implant really helped Olivia, but because she had never heard in that ear, it took time to learn to hear. Because she had previously been able to hear with her left ear, the auditory pathways were already set up and Olivia saw an immediate outcome."

Olivia adds, "I felt like a completely different person – I could hear really well, and the symptoms I was experiencing went away.  I had more confidence in every aspect of my life, and it's continued to help me in my social life and at work."

Now a qualified beauty therapist, Olivia says that her implants help her in so many ways – from taking and managing appointments to interacting with her clients.  She's also told many of her clients about her hearing loss and says everyone she has told has been universally supportive.  "From my family, to my RIDBC team, my boss and my clients everyone has been amazing.  When I was first diagnosed, I was really worried about people's reactions – and actually what I found was that it made no difference to how they saw me."

This Hearing Awareness Week, Olivia wants to share her message with other teenagers who may be feeling nervous about getting cochlear implants. "You have nothing to feel embarrassed or worried about. No one will judge you or think differently of you because of your hearing loss or your implants.  Your hearing loss is just a small part of who you are – but it is part of what makes you you and you shouldn’t have to hide it. You are no different and you can do what everyone else can do, your implants will just support you on the journey.

It will most likely feel daunting at the beginning, but, at the end of the day, having the implants will improve many parts of your life."

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