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Apr 12, 2009

Pioneering Heroes

Sometimes I wonder if people understand that a big miracle has already happened. Hard work and decades of work on the other side of the world (Australia), during the early 70's on up is directly responsible for transforming my world. Above you see the picture of my number one hero. I haven't been fortunate to meet him, but he is Dr. Graeme Clark. He is the pioneer who did the impossible. His father was a pharmacist who was deaf. Customer's would come into the pharmacy and try to ask in quiet embarrassed voices for private personal items. His father couldn't hear and any attempt at privacy was lost as voices had to be raised. Dr. Clark vowed to find out if there was anyway to help those that are deaf, like his father. He spent years researching, even standing on the street corner begging for money, when there was none to support his research. Without his dream and passion, my life wouldn't be what it is now. I hope to one day meet him. Maybe at Cochlear Celebration 2011 if I'm lucky!

Dr. Clark's first employee was the engineer, Jim Patrick, who's picture I took at Cochlear Celebration in Anaheim. He is the one who had to figure out how to make it all possible, do the engineering. I was fortunate to hear him speak at Cochlear Celebration in Anaheim, to meet him, converse with him, as well as to give him a hug and thank him for all the work he did that transformed my life and those of thousands other. He said in his speech, that there are 120,000 people with implants now. That's 120,000 lives changed. When I got my chance to talk with him, I told him that 120,000 was too small a number. There are millions of lives changed, when you think of all the families who's lives were/are also changed. He had a little petri type dish that contained electrodes that like those that are inside my cochlea. They looked like little specks of gold. When I looked at the same specks in the microscope, I saw the intricate detail of each of the golden rings (as they looked like they were), that will have have finely engineered wire the size of a human hair going through their center, before implantation. I'm amazed. I listened with interest as Jim Patrick talked about the many milestones in their research. He talked about things that happened in 1976, 1978 and etc. Each time he mentioned a date, I'd think of what I was doing in those years. As I told Jim later, if someone had told me on those dates, oh so many years ago, that a man like him was doing the research a half a world away from me in Australia, that would transform my life, I wouldn't have believed it. We NEVER know who is out there working on the next miracle that will touch us. I'm grateful for the current miracle, as well as for the once in a lifetime opportunity to personally meet and converse with one of my pioneering heroes. He was a very enjoyable to chat with later at Disneyland, as we waited for the fireworks to start. All the time, I was thinking, "Pinch me! Am I really standing here shooting the breeze and talking to my hero?"

Rod Saunders is my next pioneering hero. Of the three men I mention here, he is no longer with us. He attended the last Cochlear Celebration in 2007, but passed away later that year. So I wasn't able to meet him in Cochlear Celebration 2009. He was the first person to be implanted with the cochlear implant. I remember all the thinking and struggle before my first implant. Was it worth the risk? In truth, the risk were very minimal for me. I'd already seen lots of people with implants, such as my sister. I had lots of data available to me. Even so, it was a difficult decision. Rod Saunders had none of that. My processor fits on my ear. His processor was a whole roomful of computers. He underwent a surgery no one had ever done or had before. He could only hope to hear when he went into the room, once a week, or however often he went in there as a research subject. He had no clue if he would ever hear, if the surgery would succeed. He was willing to try. That to me is the ultimate bravery. Because of him, 120,000 people can hear now, and millions of lives of their family and friends are touched. While I never will be lucky enough to meet him since he has passed on. Yes, Diane (my friend who reads my blog and frequently posts comments) I am jealous that you got to meet all three of men I've written about here! :) Though I will never meet him, I can still honor him and the role he played in bringing about the miracle I experience every time I attach the processor to my head and turn it on. The sound is on, I'm on the air!
Thank you Dr. Clark, Jim Patrick and Rod Saunders for all the passion, hard work and sacrifice that allow me to talk on the phone, listen to an audio book, enjoy music, overhear jokes, quips and funny remarks, understand the voices of the children, hear the babble of the infant and connect easily with the people I love. Thank you for all the little children I see, learning to talk, listen, hear and be fully part of their families. Isolation isn't something they will have to live with due to this miracle. Their achievements in the future are limitless as this miracle allows them to soar more fully and easily to future greatness. I'm grateful for the opportunity to live a life, touched by a miracle and the pioneers that made it possible.


Anonymous said...

I also am amazed at the years of hard work put in this device. They never gave up and all were touched at the 2007 celebration to see the results of their work. There were 1000 people at that celebration. They will always be honored and revered by those who have had their lives changed by a cochlear implant.

Chance's Mom said...

These guys are some of my hero's too!