By John D. Hardenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Sloan Churman walked into a room adjacent to the dining room where he was sitting with his wife, Sarah.
He returned wearing a grin on his face while holding a stack of about 30 CDs.
“Let me give you a taste of what she likes to listen to,” he said.
“Oh no,” Sarah said with a smile.
“No, it’s OK. You have pretty good taste.”
“Are you sure all that’s mine?”
“We have some old school Check Berry, Steve Miller, Mumford and Sons — she hates Mumford and Sons”
“No, I don’t,” she said. “He has the bad habit of getting CDs and then he plays them over and over for days on end. And I’m like, space it out, bro, put something else in.”
Before summer 2011, this wasn’t a typical conversation the Burleson couple could have so easily — because Sarah’s hearing was almost non-existent.
Sarah had a 75 to 95 decibel lapse, meaning that noises like a chain saw running full throttle near her ear would sound like nothing more than a mere whisper to her.
Even the sound of her two daughters’ voices was unknown to her.
Sarah was born with a rare genetic deformity that caused the hairs in her inner ear that transmitted sound to the brain not to form.
She was fitted with her first hearing aid at a young age, but even with that technology, her hearing was minimal.
However, in mid-2011, millions watched as Sarah experienced her first moment of hearing on Youtube.
In the video, tears streamed down Sarah’s face as she heard her voice for the first time in 29 years, which was made possible by the Esteem Inner Ear Stimulator, a hearing aid designed for people with sensorineural hearing loss.
Sarah got the implant for her left ear, and the procedure cost about $30,000.
The couple paid for the procedure with the help of Sloan’s mother, Lari, who dipped into her retirement savings.
Sarah’s moving video soon reached the eyes of TV host Ellen DeGeneres and the producers of her show. DeGeneres invited Sarah, Sloan, their two children, Elise and Olivia, and Lari to the show.
DeGeneres surprised the family and announced that Envoy agreed to pay the cost of a second implant in Sarah’s right ear and presented Lari with a $30,000 check to cover the cost of the first surgery.
Earlier this month, Sarah returned to the Envoy Medical clinic in The Woodlands near Houston to have the second device in her right ear activated after it was implanted in January.
Life after the hearing devices’ activation hasn’t quite settled for the Churmans.
“It’s still weird. The whole whirlwind hasn’t hit me just yet,” Sarah said.
The couple is still adjusting to new experiences brought on by the devices that Sarah never had to deal with before, like the importance of vocal tone.
“I have had to be sensitive about my tone with her because before most of her interpretation came from facial expression and body language,” Sloan said. “She’d ask, ‘Why are you mad?’ and I would say, ‘I’m not.’ But it was just the way I was saying certain things. It was a new experience for me and we’ve had a few bouts about that.”
“And we still do,” Sarah said with a smile.
And then there are the other subtle sounds most people may take for granted that have amazed Sarah, like the sound of a heartbeat and the sounds of thunder and rain.
“She didn’t know you could put your ear up to a person’s chest and hear their heartbeat,” Sloan said. “So for about four to five days no one was safe. She would go around yanking up people’s shirts listening to their hearts.”
Going out in public is also easier, Sarah said.
“It’s not a job anymore,” she said. “I never realized it before, but it was always so hard. It’s so much work to focus on people’s lips and to stay aware of your surroundings. But now it’s so much more relaxed and enjoyable.”
Though life is a little easier now, Sarah’s adjustment to her new hearing will take time because there are parts of her brain that are working for the first time and listening is still a skill she’s learning to exercise.
“Sometimes I just get so tired from hearing people talk and listening to sounds,” she said. “And when I’m tired I kind of revert back to being inside myself and not realizing I can hear or I forget to pay attention.”
To date, the couple has conducted more than 38 interviews for TV and radio shows, magazines, newspapers and other media outlets.
“Well it’s probably more than that, but we just stopped counting after that,” Sloan said.
Sarah said every time she thinks people are finished talking about her or wanting to reach out to her, she receives another phone call or request.
The newest venture the couple decided to tackle is writing their first book.
About two weeks ago, Sarah signed a contract to write a book on the beauty of hope and how her new ability to hear has changed her understanding of the word hope.
Sarah said she was contacted by the book publishing company several months ago to write a book but decided to place the offer on the back burner. But after reading several emotional and moving messages on her YouTube, Facebook and email accounts, Sarah decided to pursue the book deal.
Some of the messages people wrote to Sarah explained how moving her video was and how it illustrated that there is still hope left in the world.
“I’m just a regular person. Anyone could have filmed 90 seconds of themselves being excited about something,” she said. “But it would be selfish not to use the platform to help people.”
Sarah said she’s just a normal person, no different than the people who watched her viral video, which now sits at 12.3 million views.