Val Jefferys was laying on a banana lounge watching her children swim in the family pool one Friday afternoon 38 years ago, when she dozed off for a while. When she woke up, she discovered she’d lost all hearing in her right ear.
“It was completely gone,” Val said.
“I couldn’t hear a thing, nothing at all.”
In the days and weeks following, she visited several doctors and specialists who told her nothing could be done to bring her hearing back.
“They said all the nerves we dead. The ear was dead. There was nothing they could do,” she said.
Val learnt to live with the loss of her hearing, but things became a lot more difficult. She had to learn to lipread to understand her four children and husband David.
“I always worked out a way to do things because there wasn’t one doctor who offered any help,” she said.
“They all said it was impossible for me to hear out of the ear again.”
The couple, who’ve now been married for 58 years, moved to Coastal Waters Resort in 2007, and came in contact with Jervis Bay based audiologist Alison Chiam.
“About two years ago, she asked if I’d ever considered having a cochlear implant, and I just said no because no one had ever mentioned it before,” Val said.
“Well she recommended I do it, and I thought well why not, it’ll either work or won’t.”
A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that does the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.
On October 25, Val finally underwent surgery to have the implant fitted. The device was turned on this Tuesday, and has already had life-changing impacts for Val and David.
“It’s amazing,” Val said.
“I was sitting in Alison’s office with my eyes closed and I started hearing these small beeps. Suddenly I could hear everything.”
David called the implant a “dream come true.”
“This has been an absolute fairy tale,” he said.
“We were sitting outside yesterday and I saw a little bird land on the fence.
“Well I watched Val and she looked over because she’d heard it chirping. That was the first time that had happened in a very, very long time.”
Two staff members from the cochlear implant manufacturer also came to Val’s “switching-on” appointment.
“The thing was all these people, Alison, the surgeon, the cochlear manufacturers, they all really cared about me and I felt incredibly special,” Val said.
“A bit like royalty.”
While Val said she was feeling incredibly blessed to have her hearing back after almost 40 years, she admitted she’d switched the device off a few times.
“David crashes around,” she said. “I keep saying ‘oh don’t bang so much’, I never knew how loud he was before now.”
“Quietly I’ll just slip it off, give it a rest, put it back on before he notices.”
When the surgeon asked David how he felt about the implant, he joked he didn’t want her to have it.
“I said now she’ll hear me mumbling all the time,” he said. “She’ll think I’m a silly old devil.”
The cochlear implant sits just behind Val’s right ear and is covered by her hair, you’d never notice it if you didn’t know it were there.
Val said she was very excited for life ahead with her renewed hearing.
“It’s amazing the sounds you notice even when you’re just sitting out in the garden,” she said.
“I really feel like it’s a bit of a miracle.”