"I’d been warned by my GP that a Cochlear implant wouldn’t work, but having one fitted has transformed my life."
Lidia was at a high in her career, was happily married and enjoying motherhood with her two boys in their formative years at school, when her life suddenly felt like it had ground to a startling halt.
For since being a teenager growing up in Poland Lidia, now aged 49, has suffered from Ménière's Disease, a rare disorder that affects the inner ear, causing vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and a feeling of pressure deep inside the ear.
Lidia’s condition had been stable for years and although Ménière's meant she had lost her hearing completely in one ear and she wore a hearing aid for moderate hearing loss in the other from when she was a teenager, Lidia was largely unaffected by it. She was taught in a mainstream school and moved to London in 1991 to take up an English language scholarship.
Her passion though was fashion. She had trained as a garment technologist and after meeting her husband Norman soon set up a freelance dressmaking studio, working with well-known designers, such as Tomasz Starzewski, Roubi L’Roubi and Ben de Lisi.
She then went on to fulfill her dream of running her own fashion store, Best Couture in South Ealing, until she had what turned out to be a life-changing attack of vertigo in 2005. Lidia believes this Ménière's incident was brought on from the stress of managing the successful store.
She saw the health scare as a warning and decided to downsize and return to running a dressmaking studio from home in West London. “This suited all of my family better,” says Lidia. But then a few years later, Lidia began to experience further problems with her hearing, due to a fluid build up in her ‘working’ ear.
Gradually the hearing in her better ear worsened and within three months she could no longer hear from it, with her hearing aid no longer being effective. That was in December 2008 and at the same time with no noise to distract her, her tinnitus became unbearable.
“I felt like my life had stopped,” says Lidia. “I was not prepared to become deafened so early and naturally I was very upset. Daily experiences of misunderstanding my communication needs did not help. While hearing loss is not an illness, it is just as traumatic,” says Lidia.
Her family was badly impacted too. Lidia’s husband Norman, who she had met at a hard of hearing group a year after arriving from Poland, had his own hearing problems. And her children – Thomas, aged seven and Simon, 12 at the time – found it difficult to adjust to communicating with a mother, who, although could lipread, could not hear a word they were saying.
“My youngest son Thomas seemed most affected. He was desperate to carry on the same communication that he was used to and would often refuse to write down what he wanted to say, especially when I could not lipread him.
“He started to have a lot of problems at school which was difficult to deal with as the school did not take into consideration my sudden deafness in communication with me. A few years later we discovered that he has Asperger Syndrome, which could explain his inability to cope with the overall situation. My older son, meanwhile, was just trying his best at high school, I am very proud of him and his resilience.”
Lidia decided to take time out from work. “I found all this too much to cope with. My confidence was shattered and I felt like my life was hanging in the balance, not sure which turn to take. I did not like it. I have always been fiercely independent, so having no control over the situation was hard to take in. That year my father also died. I was not able to hear his last words.”
It was a year after losing her hearing that Lidia was fitted with a Cochlear implant in 2009: technology which put her family back on track and which she was warned by one GP would be ineffective.
Instead, the ‘switch on’ was a success and Lidia says she “just could not believe it”. Over the coming weeks her tinnitus improved too.
“I will never forget what my younger son did when I returned home,” says Lidia. “He stood behind me, called my name and when I turned back to him immediately, he was jumping with joy. Sneaky, was he not?”
Lidia has since re-opened her dressmaking studio, working now with an agency and closely with a new batch of big-name designers, but is mindful now not to take on too much work and become stressed again. She has also been given fresh rigour to campaign for greater awareness for hard of hearing people, influencing EU standards, directives, MEPs and MPs in her roles as vice president of the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People and chair of The National Association of Deafened People.
“Regaining the ability to hear again has given me an amazing confidence boost. I have got my independence back. To me a Cochlear implant is so much more than just helping me to hear again. It has opened up opportunities I had not considered before. Losing my hearing made me realise that I had so much more to do and had a profound effect in how I see myself in the scheme of things.”
Lidia is now a visiting lecturer at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, where she supports personal development of hard of hearing students with mentoring, lectures and workshops. And this year she starts an e-learning pedagogy degree at this university.
“I am glad I was given the chance to hear again and I am not wasting a minute of it,” says Lidia.
Having seen the benefits that his wife Lidia has enjoyed, Norman put himself forward for a Cochlear implant too and says his life has been transformed with the technology.
Had he been given the option of having the device earlier – when his wife was struggling to hear – things would have been much easier during their year of crisis. Norman, also aged 49, is now happy to answer the phone and he has gained greater confidence in communicating with strangers as well as with people who have come to know that because he was profoundly deaf at birth his speech sounded different.
“Family and friends have commented that my speech is much clearer now and that’s because I can hear what I am saying,” says Norman, a warehouse operative, who says he also feels much safer at work now being able to hear forklift trucks near him and messages shouted to him by colleagues.
“It’s changed my life more than I could ever have hoped. I can hear our cat Bella miaow, the words in songs and people at the end of the phone: all things that I could never do before when I had to rely on hearing aids, which never really gave me the clarity I now enjoy from the implant,” says Norman.
The information on this website is for educational purposes, and is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.