An excerpt from my book, Sound of Silence.
My parents lived in England and my father had become quite ill so I made a number of trips to spend time with them. This involved quite a lot of train travel when I got to England. One trip led to a conversation with a woman who told me her worries about what to do with her deaf son. I shared the knowledge I had, as anyone would, and did my best to help. We didn’t exchange cards; the Internet was not omnipresent, and we lost touch. Some years later she contacted me and has shared this story, which I’m sharing with you because you never know when your one brick in the wall is an important brick:
“Meeting Dr Elaine Saunders on the train in 1989 between London Paddington station and Exeter station was just like wining the lottery for us, and has had a huge impact on our lives.
We had boarded the train on 22 December at four o’clock in the afternoon. The train was packed with Christmas shoppers and we asked this Lady if she minded if we sat with her. She explained that she had travelled from Australia and was on the way to visit her mother in Exeter.
We were on holiday from Botswana visiting family in England and we had taken the opportunity to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and an audiologist in Harley Street that day with our son Hughan who was diagnosed profoundly deaf at 14 months old; at the time he was 16 months old. We had desperately been searching for answers on how to deal with with his deafness and how we should be teaching him his communication skills in the future.
On the train, we explained to the Lady why we had been to London and about Hughan’s hearing loss. We couldn’t believe it when she told us she had been to University with the audiologist we had seen earlier in the day, and started explaining that she was studying deafness and all about a device called the ‘Cochlear Implant’. It was still in the early stages of being developed and she gave us some details about how the equipment worked and that the Australian device was ahead in technology at the time. This gave us huge hope for how we could maybe help Hughan in the future.
When Hughan turned three years old he was unable to hear most speech sounds using his powerful hearing aids, so we had to choose between a signing programme or the Cochlear Implant. Because of information that we had been told that day on the train in 1989, we didn’t hesitate with the idea of Hughan having the Cochlear Implant, especially if it was the Australian device. He was the tenth child to receive the Cochlear Implant in Cape Town in 1992. England had not started giving children the implant yet.
In 2011, I came across a packet with our train tickets and a small piece of paper with the name Dr Elaine Saunders on it. I decided to Google the name, and couldn’t believe it when I found all the information about the incredible work she had done since we had met her that day on the train in 1989. I was able to email her to say thank you for all the information she gave us…
The Cochlear Implant has had a huge impact on our son’s life. Hughan, now 25, drives and owns his own car and he works full time servicing caravans. He has recently travelled by himself to visit family in South Africa. He is now even able to hold a conversation on a telephone. Strangers assume he has normal hearing!
Words cannot express how thankful we are for having met Dr Elaine Saunders all those years ago. Just like winning the lottery!
– Hughan’s Mother