The sounds of life

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How cricket and Cochlear taught Austin Philip to hear

Cochlear Australia.Indian Link

An Indian boy who is unable to hear anything stands perplexed amongst his teammates on the field… until he puts his ear implants on. Then he’s just like any other talented child who can play great cricket, hearing its sounds and above all, hearing the sounds of life. As the match finishes, Australian cricket great Brett Lee walks away with the young boy, complementing him on his game!

This is the scene from the new advertisement for Cochlear, the Australian company providing implantable hearing solutions for the deaf and hearing impaired.

For Austin Philip, who acted in the ad, this couple of minutes summarises the story of his life very well. It also reveals the story of the powerful resolutions and adaptations his family has undertaken for him. From a larger perspective, this experience is about the wider community learning to accept children as they are, and supporting them and their families in their journey.

“The hardest thing for us to accept was the fact that Austin has hearing loss,” Austin’s mother, Sheeba Philip, told Indian Link. “When it was first diagnosed at the tender age of two, we were filled with questions. How did this happen? Why us?”

She continues with regained composure, “Little did we know at that point that we had two major hurdles to surpass. The first was, should we let our boy go through the cochlear implant surgery? If the implant did not work, there would be a total loss of hearing. And then, after that, there would be a second similar surgery for his other ear couple of years later, so we would have to go through the same process all over again.”

What is a cochlear implant?

Saji Maruthurkkara, an audiologist who conducts research into the technology, says: “Unlike a hearing aid that requires some residual hearing that can be aided, the Cochlear Implant works for people with no hearing.  This is because it does the work of the damaged part of the inner ear. The sound processor that is worn behind the ear encodes the sounds and transmits them to the implant. The implant converts the codes into electrical impulses and stimulates the cochlea’s hearing nerve, and sends impulses to the brain that is interpreted as sound.”

The brain has to learn to interpret the language of the impulses created by the Cochlear Implant, which was another challenge the Philip family faced. Initially the noises sounded like a whistle to Austin, and then words had to be repeated constantly, to drum them into his new ears, and subsequently to the brain.

An interesting element in this story is the way the game of cricket is woven through it. As a norm, the whole implant process has a support crew that consists of early intervention teachers, audiologists, speech therapists, and training the children at special schools like the Royal Institute for the Deaf and Blind. In Austin’s case, all his therapy was done through cricket, which he was passionate about from an early age. The first early intervention kit he was gifted, was a cricket kit. All his first verbs were related to the game like “The man is batting”. He was asked to identify the cricketers by name and point to them to teach his brain to convert the electric impulses to sounds. And to everyone’s surprise, he picked it all up quite well!

Cochlear and cricket.Indian Link

Austin’s growing fondness towards Australian cricketer Michael Hussey was something his family could not ignore. Well aware of this, a colleague of Sheeba’s sent an e-mail to Cricket Australia, which was forwarded to Hussey himself. In an unexpected turn of events, Hussey’s manager replied that he would like to meet Austin.

Anish Philip, Austin’s father, is grateful to Hussey as he set aside half an hour of his time to give some joyous moments to the brave boy and his family. Austin is very lucky to have an elder brother who supported him in every step, with perseverance and patience. It was not just the professionals and the celebrities, but most people they met, who supported the family to help instill rays of hope for Austin.

During their conversation with Indian Link, a seemingly moved Anish sat alongside Sheeba as she explained the emotional journey their little boy has been through. Gradually, Anish opened up about the concerns he had regarding the social acceptance of his boy. “As a dad, all I wanted was to hear him say ‘I love you, Dad’ From there, Austin has grown into someone who goes to a high school for “normal” children, and has the most number of friends in his class!” the proud father said.

Cochlear Australia Brett Lee.Indian Link

A wonderful twist in this story is how cricket returned Austin’s love for the game. An obvious achiever in the sport, Austin, who lives in Toongabbie, has been playing in the district cricket team for the past four years. He was the opening bowler last year for the Parramatta district under 14s team, and this year he is playing in the under 15s team. When asked about his dream, Austin flashed a lovely smile. “I want to be the first deaf person with implants to play for Australia, to show the world that nothing should stop you from achieving your dreams.” He wants to give back to the game, the people and the country that changed his life!

To assist with her son’s particular medical condition, Sheeba gave up her teaching job and undertook a Masters in Special Education (Hearing Impairment). Today, she is a happy woman, helping kids with the same disability as her son and educating their parents by sharing the lessons from her own life. The five-year-old boy who stood perplexed in the field of life, unable to comprehend the sounds around him, is now a young gentleman in high school. Thanks to the timely decisions and support that he received, Austin can effectively hear and connect with the sounds of life.