Abbey Russell chronicles her journey of becoming a cochlear implant recipient at 23 years old.
Written By: Rin-rin Yu
Abigail Russell, or Abbey, an AG Bell intern and a Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) graduate, recently decided to get her first cochlear implant—at the age of 23. Born with a condition called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA), which affects hearing in children, Abbey’s hearing fluctuated in and out for the first few years, although she says she could usually hear. However, when she was 3 years old, she fell head first onto a concrete ground, and lost her hearing shortly after.
“When my hearing dwindled to nothing, I began to stop speaking altogether because I couldn’t hear myself,” Abbey, who is from Grabill, Indiana, says. But her mother insisted that she continue talking, telling her: “You can’t hear me, but Mommy hears you.”
Eventually, she regained hearing in her right ear, just enough to be fitted with a hearing aid. Her left ear remained silent. She spent the next several years working with speech therapists, who, along with her mother, she calls “three strong women, who helped me become a strong self-advocate and believer of my abilities.” In school, she built a community of friends and teachers who supported her, while ignoring the taunts of being called “deaf girl” or “she can’t hear you, anyway.” Outside of school, she learned to play piano and become a competitive horseback rider.
During her senior year of college at Taylor University, where she was studying biology with intent to enter medical school, Abbey decided to meet with an EVA specialist. At the time, she was wary of getting a cochlear implant. For years, she had never been considered a good candidate for one, because she always had “one good ear”—the one with the hearing aid. This time, however, the EVA specialist told her she qualified.
“There is a lot that goes into making a decision to get a cochlear implant,” she says. For her, she was always at risk for losing hearing in her aided ear because of EVA—from airplane cabin pressure, sports, or just out of nowhere. “A cochlear implant equated to the fact of me losing the last of my natural hearing, so the thought always shook me.”
She finally decided—yes—she will be implanted. With the decision, she expects she will be able to relate better to others with cochlear implants. She also thinks her new ability to hear will improve her well- being and social life. In the past, she never realized someone was speaking on her left side, but with the implant, she hopes it will help her locate and recognize a voice on that side, which will aid in her communication skills.
In September, Abbey underwent surgery to be implanted. And after 19 years of silence, she recently had it activated. In the next several months, she’ll be undergoing check-ins and therapy, while working at AG Bell as an intern and applying to medical school. She’ll be keeping a journal for Volta Voices to provide updates on her progress, thoughts, experiences and other anecdotes as a new cochlear implant recipient. Stay tuned for updates from Abbey’s Road!