April 3, 2014

Joanne Milne hears birdsong and a child's voice for the first time

We all take things too much for granted which we only realize when we hear a story like that of Joanne Milne.

 2Nd-Joanne Milne Hears

This is the magical moment a woman who has been deaf since birth was able to hear for the very first time after having electronic implants in her ears switched on.

Joanne Milne, 40, burst into tears when the sound of a nurse reciting the days of the week introduced her to a sensory world denied to her throughout her life.

She was fitted with cochlear implants in both ears last month, and on Monday her mother filmed the moment they were turned on by remote control.

Miss Milne, from Gateshead, said: “Hearing things for the first time is so, so emotional, from the ping of a light switch to running water. I can’t stop crying.
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Miss Milne, who works for the charity Sense, underwent surgery at the Midlands Implant Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. Cochlear implants, which were first developed in the 1960s and have been given to more than 300,000 people since then, stimulate auditory nerves to make patients artificially hear noises.

Miss Milne’s implant has been doubly important to her, as the rare Usher Syndrome that affects her hearing caused her to start losing her vision in her early 20s. She now has severe tunnel vision and is registered blind.

She said: “The switch-on was the most emotional and overwhelming experience of my life and I'm still in shock now. The hearing world sounds so loud and alien. The first day everybody sounded robotic and I have to learn to recognize what these sounds are as I build a sound library in my brain.

The elation of hearing birdsong, a gurgling tap and a child's voice: In an emotional interview, Joanne, who was filmed hearing her first sound last week after being deaf from birth, reveals how it felt

'It was overwhelming. I was overcome. I started to cry, and when I looked at my mum she was crying, too. My therapist's voice sounded robotic and high and the sounds lingered.

'I'd prepared myself mentally, but it was much louder than I'd expected. The sound seemed to course through my body. It was a  sensation I'd never experienced before and it made the hairs on my arm stand on end.

'It was emotional, exciting, amazing. I was so happy. I hadn't imagined it would be so wonderful and I wanted to savor every moment, I didn't want it to pass too quickly. A little voice in my head was saying, “This is what sound is like”, and it all surprised me.

'Since then I've come into a world of hustle-bustle: of birdsong and ticking clocks, of running water and traffic roaring. All these noises a hearing person takes for granted and it's so, so loud, so different and daunting. After the first two days I remember thinking: “I just want to get back in my silent house.”'
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She's always appreciated music — she could sense its rhythms and vibrations — but now she can hear tunes, instruments, lyrics. A friend has made a compilation of 40 tunes — one for each year of Joanne's life — and she is rationing her listening so she can relish each one.

'The first song I heard was John Lennon's Imagine, and it will stay with me for ever,' she says. 'I could identify the lyrics, and the fact there was more than one instrument playing — although I didn't know what they were. I sat with my friend and we listened together. We were in floods of tears at the end of it.'

During a week of vivid new experiences, I ask which has touched her most. She says it was hearing her four-year-old niece Casey's voice. 'She just said “Auntie Joanne, where are the biscuits?” and it was amazing on two levels. I'd heard her voice for the first time, and it was so sweet and beautiful.

'And I hadn't had to look at her, to lip-read. It was a life-changing moment. Then I heard her feet tap across the floor as she went to get a biscuit, and I had a little cry.'

There is something about Joanne and her remarkable story of hope that has lifted hearts the world over. Yet in a week of small miracles — of spring birdsong, music, rushing water and teeming streets — it was a child's simple words that moved her most.
Posted by Jill Fallon at April 3, 2014 2:28 PM | Permalink