Skylar Mason, a Baha® recipient and 2016 Anders Tjellström Scholarship winner, is working as a summer intern supporting the Cochlear Recipient Services team. Below she talks about her experience with single-sided deafness and the Baha system.
Unlike most teenagers, my hearing loss experience began pretty recently—I had perfect hearing until I was seventeen, two years ago.
In July 2014, my dad and I were driving to church for youth group. Just as we entered an intersection, a driver in a raised pickup truck ran a red light, T-boning and plowing through our small Volkswagen Beetle. She wasn’t drunk, just distracted: she later claimed she “didn’t notice the color of the light.” The result was gruesome: My dad was killed instantly and I was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition.
I immediately underwent surgery to save my left eye, then I was placed in a medically induced coma until my condition was stable. When I woke up, they found that I had a traumatic brain injury and broke basically every bone in my head, face, and the upper left side of my body. My facial nerve had been severed and the left side of my face was completely paralyzed. I also had profound hearing loss in both ears, and I was blind in my left eye.
A few days later, the doctors presented me with a choice: in order to try and repair my facial nerve, they could enter through my left ear, remove my inner ear, and try to fix the facial nerve, then fill the hole with stomach fat and sew my outer ear back on. Or they could lift up my brain and try to access the nerve that way, but because of my traumatic brain injury and shattered skull, that was likely to cause brain damage. OR they could do nothing at all and hope that maybe my facial nerve would recover on its own over time.
Obviously that was not a fun choice, but we went ahead and did the surgery through my left ear. The doctors were able to repair the facial nerve, and with several months of intense physical therapy I regained almost all the movement in my face. Unfortunately, the surgery left me permanently deaf in my left ear.
The hearing in my right ear bounced back about two weeks after the accident. We still don’t know how/why, but now I have almost normal hearing in that ear.
I just kind of accepted the hearing loss and went about my life, trying to heal from all the other injuries. Until I had a follow-up appointment with my audiologist a few months later, when she told me I potentially qualified for a Baha device.
I had heard of Cochlear implants, but never bone-anchored hearing conduction devices. The technology was fascinating to me, and I was so excited that I could possibly regain some sound that we scheduled the Baha® 4 Attract surgery that very afternoon, for an operation two weeks later.
I was somewhat apprehensive about the surgery beforehand, but the operation is straightforward and the recovery turned out to be relatively painless. I’ve had nine surgeries in the past year and a half, with three more scheduled later this year, and the Baha Attract implanting was probably the easiest procedure I’ve had. I didn’t experience much pain afterwards—just a little discomfort—and all I took was Tylenol. I walked out of the hospital and was back to normal physical activity less than 48 hours later.
I won’t say that the Baha device brought back the EXACT same sound I had been used to hearing. Like any hearing aid, cochlear implant, or other bone-anchored device, there is a different sound quality, volume, and tone from natural hearing. The transition takes time and work. But I’m glad I made that decision, and it has ultimately impacted my life for the better.
The cool thing about the Baha Attract is that once the site healed from surgery, there was no more maintenance required. When I take off my processor there’s no sign that I have anything there, and the magnet isn’t strong enough to cause problems when I walk past lockers or fridges. (That was one of my actual concerns going into the procedure!)
I am so grateful to Cochlear for the ways it has improved my life:
- With the help of my Baha device I was able to go back to the classroom and catch up with my schoolwork in time to graduate with my class. My Baha 4 gave me the confidence to go back to school and know that I would be able to keep up with everything going on around me.
- In the fall I’ll begin my sophomore year studying journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Anders Tjellström Scholarship is an incredible gift that is helping me pursue my education without financial strain.
- This summer internship is an amazing opportunity for me to work firsthand with the people and technology that have made such a difference in my life, and I’m hoping I can help others find those same resources and support.