Fuseworks Media

‘A cochlear implant can be about so much more than hearing’

Loud Shirt Day encourages New Zealanders to commit fashion crimes, donate to the NZ cochlear implant programmes, and give the gift of sound

Cochlear implants provide children and adults who are hard of hearing with access to sound, but receiving an implant isn’t simply about hearing.

Richard Green, of Auckland, has made the conscious decision that his implant won’t change his vibrant and confident fashion style, characterised by a mohawk, piercings, and colourful clothing.

With his trademark self-expression, Richard has seamlessly woven his cochlear implant into his distinctive style. His collection of colourful kilts is co-ordinated with a range of differently coloured implant sleeves.

At a recent event, someone stopped him to admire his “pimped-up CI,” declaring it the coolest they had ever seen.

Richard’s response to praise such as this is simple but profound: “I can still be my own person with a cochlear implant, and I treasure that.”

Richard, and thousands of other adults and children with cochlear implants, are the focus of Loud Shirt Day 2023 – a national fundraising event and awareness campaign being held on October 27.

New Zealanders are encouraged to dress up in their brightest outfits and hold fundraising events at workplaces, homes and schools throughout the country.

Loud Shirt Day is the annual appeal of The Hearing House (THH) and the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) – the only two charities in New Zealand dedicated to helping children and adults with a cochlear implant learn to listen, speak and reconnect with school, work and the community.

Four years ago, the course of Richard’s life took a dramatic turn when he was struck by a car while crossing Auckland’s College Hill at 11 o’clock one Wednesday morning after a meeting.

The accident left him with multiple injuries, and as he lay in hospital, he noticed something was wrong with his hearing. “It felt weird,” he recounted to the trauma surgeon at the time.

Tragically, he would later learn that the impact of the accident had caused him to lose all hearing in his left ear.

Over the following six months, Richard explored various options to help improve his ability to hear.

Hearing aids seemed like a logical choice, but they fell short, especially in the context of his work in the creative and events industries, where multi-tasking in noisy, busy environments is crucial.

Richard is at the helm of the arts organisation He Waka Eke Noa Charitable Trust, where he orchestrates a vibrant array of events and festivals, spearheads the nationally renowned Ugly Shakespeare Company, and oversees Kete Aronui, a dynamic creative space in Onehunga. Now they have opened their theatre space too, The Factory Theatre, which again requires multiple demands on his hearing at one time.

He found himself getting demoralised – and exhausted – by his lack of hearing. Work became a struggle.

Last year, his audiologist encouraged him to try a cochlear implant. Six months later, Richard had the surgery to have a cochlear implant fitted on his left side.

Supported by THH, Richard says he’s learning to process sound while at the same time managing his energy levels.

“It’s quite challenging,” Richard admits. “It’s something you’ve got to learn to live with, but the support I’ve had from The Hearing House has been incredible.”

The organisation offered insights into rehabilitation, fostered a sense of community through its networking outreach and ensured he was supported every step of the way.

Amidst the challenges of adapting to a new experience of hearing, Richard found solace in his love for music. He discovered that with his new cochlear implant, he could once again relish the crystal-clear melodies of his cherished vinyl collection.

As Richard researched what was involved with the implant technology and rehabilitation, he was surprised by the information and recommendations about cochlear implants that he read in articles and on websites. Suggestions included keeping the processor under a scarf, hat or long hair to keep it hidden. This ran contrary to Richard’s style.

Ever the creative visionary, Richard has bigger plans on the horizon. He envisions 3-D printing and designing a series of personalised vinyl sheets to adorn the sleeves of fellow cochlear implant wearers, adding a unique flair to each user’s experience.

The programmes and services offered by THH and SCIP include assessment, cochlear implant surgery, listening and spoken language therapy, audiology, and outreach programmes for regional and remote patients. Both organisations are also committed to clinical research and professional development.


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