A brave Maltese woman who was born with a heart condition and is now living her life as a bilateral cochlear implant (CI) user has opened up to raise awareness about the challenges and experiences that came along with it.
Around 23 years ago, Luisa Fenech was born with a hole in her heart and given medication to treat her condition. She was then told that it was safe for her to go home. However, nine months later, her parents realised that Luisa wasn’t reacting to any noise, even to loud noises such as the sound of pots and pans being banged in her face.
Her parents immediately took Luisa to a doctor for a check-up and they found out that she had gone profoundly deaf.
Speaking with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Luisa explained how medical experts who treated her came to believe that her hearing impairment was a result of the medication she was given to treat her heart condition.
“Following this diagnosis in 1999, I had the option of being fitted with a cochlear implant in my right ear, however the operation was not available in Malta. For this reason, my parents took me to do the operation in Manchester when I was just two and a half years old. The speech therapy sessions following the operation were also done in Manchester, thus together with my parents and sister we had to fly to the UK frequently,” she said.
In simple terms, a cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. An implant is different from a hearing aid as it needs to be surgically fitted and placed under the skin.
Fast forward 12 years living with one CI, at 14 years of age, Luisa went through another operation as she was fitted with her second CI in her left ear. This time, both the surgery and speech therapy sessions were done locally.
A second implant
Being fitted with a second CI in her left ear was very unexpected and it was only done because Luisa wanted to. At 14 years of age, Luisa saw that the first cochlear implant operation was going to be done in Malta so she wanted to do her second one, and went under the knife in May 2012.
“Doctors and family members were all very hesitant and apprehensive to allow me to go through yet another major surgery as it had its risks. I understand that at 14 you might not really comprehend or realise how difficult something can be. Thankfully, I had a lot of support and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she said.