August 5, 2005

Cochlear implant procedures a family affair for deaf couple

Featured Image

Bob Geldreich, deaf since he was an infant, reacts after his new cochlear implant was turned on for the first time.
photo by Dana Johnson

Cochlear implant procedures a family affair for deaf couple

Bob Geldreich, 56, and his wife, Beverly, 54, both deaf since infancy, received cochlear implants on Monday and, for the first time in their lives, were able to hear each other and their children.

It was an emotional moment for their entire family.

“I can hear your voice,” said Bob Geldreich, grinning broadly.

David Haynes, M.D., associate professor of Otolaryngology and Hearing and Speech Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, performed the surgeries.

“I've known the Geldreiches for some time through our work with local support groups,” said Haynes. “I've implanted multiple family members before, but never a husband and wife on the same day.”

Haynes said how important it is for the medical community to know that many adults receive implants.

“There's a misperception — because of the emphasis on early identification and treatment — that cochlear implants are exclusively for children. But adults like the Geldreiches, who may not be getting any benefit from hearing aids, make wonderful candidates for this surgery. At Vanderbilt we've implanted 1-year-olds and 80-year-olds. You are literally never too old or too young for this surgery.”

The Geldreiches daughter, Ginger Jones, is a speech-language pathologist at the Bill Wilkerson Center. She works in the Center for Childhood Deafness and Family Communication, teaching children with hearing loss to speak and listen with their hearing aids or cochlear implants.

She's also on Vanderbilt's Cochlear Implant team, which consists of the Neurotology surgeons, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and teachers of the deaf and hearing impaired.

Jones's interest in this area was sparked by her parents' successful lives in spite of having to face the challenge of deafness. She will be assisting her parents as they learn to use their implants and hear the world for the first time.

“My dad lost his hearing due to an illness at 6 months old and no one is sure how my mom lost her hearing, but she was either born deaf or lost her hearing as an infant,” said Jones.

“From what I can remember from stories from my grandmother, Dad was one of the first children who came to Bill Wilkerson. My grandparents told many stories about Freeman McConnell, who was the director and also Dad's audiologist. They thought very highly of him. At that time deaf children were sent to the Tennessee School for the Deaf, but my grandparents did not want him to go there so they chose for him to be oral even though he received limited benefit from his hearing aids.”

Beverly Geldreich grew up in Mississippi and attended University of Southern Mississippi Dubard School, which also taught deaf children spoken language. The Geldreiches have been married for 32 years and did not learn sign language until after they were married.

Jones admires her parents' fortitude and courage in taking this next step in their lives. Clearly, though, the most important aspect of her childhood was the normalcy, rather than the special circumstance.

“I have an older bother, Gill, who is an attorney in the Attorney General's Office here in Nashville,” she comments. “Neither of us has a hearing loss and we grew up with our parents speech reading. Had we known anything different we may have thought we were unique.”