'˜I switch on my hearing every day like a light'
Karen struggled with hearing aids for years before the implant
A Blackpool woman is rediscovering her love of music after her hearing was amazingly restored.
Karen Montanaro, 48, is learning piano and teaching Spanish and French to willing students thanks to a rare ear implant that allows her to hear after years of struggling with normal hearing aids.
She said: “It’s just great to be able to be sociable and join in everyday conversation without having to explain that I have hearing loss.
“I wouldn’t be able to work as a language tutor without them.
“When I had hearing aids they felt like they were blocking up my ears. Everyone sounded like they were mumbling.”
The stepmum-of-one, who lives on Mansfield Road, had a Vibrant Soundbridge implant placed in her middle ear at Manchester Infirmary.
The implant is usually given to people who suffer from permanent hearing loss after middle ear surgery, or people who cannot wear hearing aids due to inflamation of the ear canal.
Karen said: “I first heard about the middle ear implant from a doctor in 2003 when I was working in France. That was when they were in their infancy.
“A regular hearing aid just amplifies the sounds and sounds quite distorted.
“The inner ear implant picks up external sounds and transfers the vibrations directly to my middle ear.
“I’m getting a far more normal sound.
“It’s like switching on my hearing every day like a light switch.
“I wake up and turn it on and I can hear the tick tock of the clock.”
Karen lost her hearing over time due to a genetic condition which affects how the body develops.
Women affected by Turner Syndrome are born with with an X chromosone either partially or completely missing.
This can result in a number of symptoms, including a webbed neck, stunted growth, fertility problems and gradual hearing loss.
Turner Syndrome affects between one in 2,000 and one in 5,000 females at birth, with all regions of the world being affected equally.
Karen said: “Living with Turner Syndrome I have had to fight with self esteem issues because of being short and because of the hearing loss.
“Hearing loss does affect your self esteem. If you’re not confident with your hearing it affects you socially.
“It can feel very isolating.
“If you can’t hear properly you’re constantly having to ask people to shout up and repeat themselves.
“It can be quite embarrassing. I didn’t like having to do it.
“My working environment was becoming more and more difficult, so I had to do something.
“It’s an aid and that’s all it ever will be - it’s not a cure for my hearing loss. But it enables me to have a better quality of life.
“I’m much more sociable now, especially in the workplace.
“I can do my job much better as well.”
Karen is now living her life to the fullest as she studies for her latest piano exam - which, of course, requires a fine ear.
She said: “Now I can just get on with learning the piano as any normal music student would do.
“I’m now studying very hard for my grade 5 piano certificate.
“I can hear every note so clearly and it’s much better than playing with a hearing aid because the noise from the piano was making them whistle!”
Middle ear implants: what do they do and how do they work?
• The middle ear implant is placed inside the ear canal and linked to a microphone which is positioned on the side of a person’s head.
• Sounds are picked up by the microphone of the audio processor and converted into electrical signals.
• The signals are then transmitted through the skin to the implant.
• The implant transmits the signals to a transducer, which converts the signal into mechanical vibrations that directly stimulate a middle ear structure, causing it to vibrate.
• These vibrations transmit noise to the inner ear where they are passed on to the brain and are perceived as words and sounds.