Texan Known as Groundbreaker in Overcoming Hearing Loss
January 4, 2012
Posted by ellen
Texas native Teri Wathen never thought of her actions as being
groundbreaking. But the woman’s drive to get her own cochlear implant set
things in motion for numerous others who also needed the life-changing
In Teri’s high school business class, the racket of her student’s
typewriters made it difficult for her to listen to questions. Her powerful
hearing aids, which she had worn since she was 12 years old, amplified the
sounds of their voices along with everything else. Because of the severity
of her hearing loss, she chose to spend the last nine years of her teaching
career working one-on-one with students at home on medical leave because it
provided a quieter hearing environment.
Hearing and communication skills are critically important in many
professions, especially teaching. Not to be discouraged, Teri’s desire to
hear better sent her in search of a cochlear implant. “I walked out laughing
in disbelief when told I hadn’t met the criteria,” Teri recalls after her
first evaluation. “I was struggling so hard it just didn’t make sense.” Two
years would pass before she would qualify for the device, and since she was
nearing retirement she wanted the surgery while she was still insured.
A letter arrived in the mail from the insurance company denying Teri’s
coverage of “hearing aids.” The school was self-insured, meaning her
employer ultimately made the decision on coverage so Teri set off to appeal
the denial. When she arrived at the school’s insurance department,
coincidentally the secretary was a former babysitter. “I explained to her
this wasn’t a hearing aid – it was a cochlear implant,” she said, “When she
understood the difference she immediately let me speak with the risk
manager. His first question was: Have you been deaf since birth?” Teri’s
progressive loss let her answer no to this pre-existing condition question.
“At that moment he wrote “Cover This!” on my letter and returned a copy of
the denial to the insurance company. He never knew the impact he was making
on my life,” Teri remembers.
Teri quickly spread the word to two other teachers in the school district
who also needed cochlear implants – she was breaking ground for others
desperately needing to improve their hearing. Surgery and activation of her
first cochlear implant occurred just weeks before Teri retired.
After months of rehabilitation to train her brain and ear to interpret the
new sounds, the teacher was ready to step up and help other people with
hearing loss. She approached a local ASL (American Sign Language) agency
with an idea: create a division that could provide resources to individuals
with hearing loss who didn’t sign. There were hundreds of people she could
educate about hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening
devices. The agency agreed and was awarded the state contract. Since 2003,
Teri, once again a groundbreaker, has mentored adults, parents and children
on successfully living with hearing loss. Today she serves as a Hearing Loss
Resource Specialist for the Texas Dept. of Assistive and Rehabilitative
Hereditary hearing loss touches many of Teri’s family members, including her
husband, two sons and two grandchildren. She has led the way when it’s time
for them to consider a cochlear implant.
“One of my favorite traditions is attending a holiday party where a friend
plays music on a saxophone,” Teri says. “I’m almost moved to tears by my new
ability to enjoy music again because of my cochlear implants. In fact I
recently invited my son’s friend who just received his cochlear implant so
he could experience it, too, for the first time.”
Teri will no doubt continue to discover new ways to reach people challenged
with hearing loss and help them find ways to live more productively. Once a
groundbreaker always a groundbreaker.
If you’d like to visit with Teri about her personal journey I encourage you
to attend the Houston Hearing Health Seminar on January 21st.
Hearing once again,