Hear, hear: Anthony's 50-year hearing journey

Life-changing: Anthony Leo.
Life-changing: Anthony Leo.

In December 2018, Anthony Leo was sitting in the Liverpool office of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (which was rebranded on Monday to NextSense to better reflect the organisation's ground breaking work), to find out if his cochlear implant on his left ear had been successful.

It was the moment of truth. It was a very important moment.

You see the 73-old had dealt with hearing loss for more than 50-years.

When he was 20 he lost hearing in his right ear when he was diagnosed with sudden onset hearing loss. He learnt to live with the ringing in his ear (which only went away when he went to sleep) and went on to achieve personal and professional success as a journalist and solar engineer and even fulfilled a childhood dream of learning how to fly light airplanes.

The Cecil Park resident had got used to hearing out of only one ear. It was the new normal.

But in 2001, he was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma in his good left ear. He was told that surgery may result in losing his hearing, but to ignore it could be fatal.

Anthony Leo has regained his hearing.

Anthony Leo has regained his hearing.

He was sent to Melbourne in 2002 to have the tumor removed and his hearing was preserved.

It was back to "normal" for the time being. However he his hearing was progressively getting worse.

"I got more and more powerful (and expensive) hearing aids, but these only worked for a short time. It was a slippery slope - I was pretending I could hear, and it was exhausting," he said.

"I became a recluse as I couldn't participate in conversations and so I stopped going to social outings and events - it was isolating. At home, I was relying on lip reading, hand signs and guess work to understand what my wife was saying. I spent a lot of time in my shed doing electronics.

"It was hard on me and the people around me. Everyday things were becoming terrifying. I had a fear of the phone. When it rang with attention-grabbing noise and inescapable flashing red-lights I would almost have a panic attack. Should I pick it up? Should I let it go to the answering machine?

"I was rapidly losing connections with people and the world around me. Put simply, my life was going downhill rapidly."

It was now 2017 and with his hearing fading fast he thought the tumor had returned. The tests come back negative.

However, he was referred to Associate Professor Cathy Birman at RIDBC (now NextSense) to find out if he would benefit from a cochlear implant. As a recognised leader in research, education and innovation, NextSense run Australia's biggest cochlear implant program. The centre in Moore Street plays a vital role in supporting people with hearing and vision loss in the local community. They estimate 90 per cent of adults with severe and profound hearing loss who could benefit from cochlear implants live without this life-changing device due to a lack of awareness.

Mr Leo was put on a waiting list and after some deliberation on what ear the implant would go on (which included Anthony creating a spreadsheet of the positives and negatives), it was decided his "poor hearing" left ear would be the greatest possibility of a decent outcome.

Anthony Leo has bilateral implants. One in six Australians are affected by hearing loss.

Anthony Leo has bilateral implants. One in six Australians are affected by hearing loss.

So back to that fateful day at the Moore Street office of NextSense.

Mr Leo was sitting with his audiologist Carol Amos after having surgery at Macquarie University Hospital.

It was the moment of truth.

"When Carol set up the sound processor, I started to hear noises and virtually instantly I was recognising words and able to understand what Carol was saying," he said.

"When you are deaf - and at that time I was profoundly deaf - it's a very emotional outcome. I started bawling like a baby.

"When I went home I could hear all the clocks making noises. After a couple of weeks of total silence I was in the hearing world.

"I'm so grateful and positive about cochlear implants; I rave on about how wonderful they are all the time."

But there was still a child-like desire to fix the ear that had been deaf for 50 plus years. In 2019, it was decided he was a candidate for a second implant.

In December 2019, his right implant was switched on.

"I couldn't hear as well as with my left ear but I could hear the banging of the desk and a few days later I was watching TV with only my recent implant and I could hear words," he said.

"I was over the moon. Only recently I went for a check-up and got 100 per cent for sense recognition and 77 per cent single word recognition. It has changed my life.

"When you're losing your hearing, its like being locked up in a jail and you don't want to try talk to people because its so stressful. It got to a point where I avoid hand waiving and lip reading sessions with my wife because it was so stressful.

"It's not a life; it's like being in a hearing jail and there is no way out until some points you in the right direction and shows you a way out.

"If you're struggling with your hearing go to your GP and and ask for a referral to NextSense."