Mary Lund knew something was wrong when she saw the concern on her co-worker’s face.
As director of advancement at an all-girls’ school, she routinely spoke with donors on the phone. “My colleague had been talking to a gentleman and handed the phone off to me,” she recalls. “I started to write down his information, and my colleague starting shaking her head and saying, ‘that’s not who it is!’ That’s when I realized that I couldn’t hear him correctly and that this was serious.”
Even though Lund had had asthma and respiratory issues for years, hearing loss never crossed her mind. “I was a normal hearing person,” she says. “I was working full-time, with three kids at home. I noticed I was having a hard time hearing, but I just figured it was allergies or a sinus problem.”
A hearing test administered by an audiologist diagnosed significant hearing loss in Lund’s left ear. However, an MRI showed nothing amiss, “so they had no known reason” for the condition. Her first try with hearing aids didn’t suit her, “so I kind of left it alone for several years.”
Over time, “I found myself really having a harder time [hearing], but I wasn’t thinking that it could progress.” After a serious bout of asthma and respiratory illness, compounded with an autoimmune deficiency diagnosis, Lund says her left ear felt “really plugged,” so she finally made an appointment with an ENT at PAMF Burlingame.
She was in for a shock. “[The doctor] said, ‘You’ve lost all hearing in your left ear. You’re deaf.’ I knew I wasn’t hearing right, but I didn’t know I was deaf!” Two months later, another test showed hearing loss in her right ear – her only source of sound. “Now I was scared out of my mind,” she says.
That’s when the ENT referred Lund to Ruwan Kiringoda, M.D., a neuro-otology specialist at PAMF Fremont. Dr. Kiringoda talked to Lund about cochlear implant (CI), a surgically implanted electronic device that can restore a sense of sound to someone who is severely hard of hearing. A CI bypasses the ear’s hearing cells and delivers sound signals directly to the hearing nerve.
After thinking it over, Lund decided: “I told [Dr. Kiringoda], ‘I want to do this.’”
Lund and Dr. Kiringoda worked together throughout the CI process. “It’s not just the surgery; it’s an entire program that’s like teaching your brain a new language,” she explains. “Your body has to assimilate a mechanical to a natural sound, so you really have to be committed to working at it – a solid six months for the basics, and a good year for real comfort with it. I was extremely motivated because I need this to be as comprehensible as possible in case my right ear ever goes [deaf] too.”
The entire cochlear implant team at PAMF was “phenomenal,” she says. “Dr. Kiringoda made me so comfortable right away. I was scared that I was going to be deaf. He told me he didn’t want me to make decisions out of fear, but that I had options and that they’d be my team. He, his assistant and all the people on his team have been attentive and extremely supportive. They earned my trust
Today, Lund describes living with a CI as “life-changing.”
“I work full time, in school settings that are noisy, loud and busy,” she says. “I put on events with hundreds of people, and I need to be able to walk around and talk with them. [The CI] has given me back my freedom and confidence.”
To anyone curious about cochlear implant, Lund has this piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to look into it! Having a brilliant doctor whom I trust and a compassionate team makes a big difference – you’ve got to have both when you’re going into something like this. From here on out, I’m going to [receive care] only from this team because I know they’re there for me.”