Twice-deaf woman uses challenges to teach through childrens’ books
Susanna Dussling, who got cochlear implants after experiencing sudden hearing loss, is now raising awareness for cochlear implants through a book series she’s written.
When her parents realized she was deaf at three-years-old, they had to decide whether Susanna Dussling would grow up hard-of-hearing in a hearing world, or deaf, in deaf culture.
Growing up in deaf culture would have meant not hearing, not speaking, and learning sign language. Growing up hard-of-hearing meant hearing aids, struggles with hearing and speaking, and being teased by classmates.
She has nothing against deaf culture, she said, but Dussling can’t imagine growing up without sound. She got hearing aids as a child and said all things considered, really had great hearing and speech.
She made great grades through elementary school and Klein Forest High School, and succeeded at what was then called Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.
–>She went on to work in retail management, and though tasks such as answering the phone were difficult, she made it through and has been successful in the field ever since. She never disclosed her hearing loss, but she suspects now that people could tell.
In June 2005, when Dussling had just gotten new digital hearing aids, she realized she couldn’t hear with her left ear, her best ear. She just figured it was her new aid acting up, and made it through the rest of the day.
She came to her parents’ Tomball home very upset, tried on her old hearing aid, and still couldn’t hear. She realized she’d become deaf a second time after sudden hearing loss syndrome.
Many thoughts ran through her head: she’d been supporting herself for years and now she’d lose her job. She wouldn’t be able to support her expensive hobby, training Arabian racehorses. She wouldn’t be able to hear and now would have to learn sign language and other elements of deaf culture.
She went to the audiologist the next day to confirm the diagnosis. When she walked up to the receptionist to pay for her appointment, she got her first taste of what life was like without hearing. She couldn’t communicate and got by only by reading lips.
The next day, she returned to work depressed. Her speech got worse and her duties were cut back.
Though she’d explored the possibility cochlear implants before, she hadn’t needed them before her sudden hearing loss and hadn’t been eligible to get them.
Cochlear implants are electronic hearing devices implanted into one’s head to produce hearing sensations. One piece of the device is worn on the outside of one’s ear, like a hearing aid.
“With implants you lose all hearing in your ear,” she said. “I thought, ‘What do I care?’”
The implant in her left ear became active in February 2006, and at first she was disappointed in the results. She couldn’t hear sound right away and had to retrain her brain to adapt to this new object.
She also had extreme tinnitus, which she explained as a symphony going off in her head. The sound in her head was competing with the outside sound and it was frustrating.
She did hearing exercises, and in Summer 2006, one year after her loss, she began to really hear again. In December 2006, she got her other ear implanted, and she said the transition for her right ear was much easier than with her left ear. She could hear better than she ever could before.
Cochlear implants changed her life in more ways than just being able to hear better.
“I was in denial my whole life about my hearing loss,” she said. “I didn’t want to hang out with other hard-of-hearing people. I didn’t want to be seen as different.”
Once she got her implants though, she joined the Hearing Loss Association and served as the organization’s co-president in 2009.
She didn’t like the way cochlear implants and hearing loss were portrayed on television and in the hearing world, and she wanted to do something about it.
She is a member of Toastmasters and hopes to grow her speaking skills. She’s passionate about speaking and often speaks on goal-setting and overcoming diversity when she’s not working her full-time management job.
Another new passion of hers is writing.
In June she released the first book in a series about eight-year-old Sunny, a happy-go-lucky girl who gets cochlear implants. The book, Dussling said, is semi-biographical, but from a child’s perspective.
The book is available through her web site, www.susannamdussling.com, and through her publisher, www.authorhouse.com.
“My goal, Sunny’s hope, is to show that no matter what challenges one faces, they can still have a purposeful, meaningful life,” she said. “The ‘Sunny’ books are about hope, acceptance and positivity.”
Dussling hopes to place the books in hospitals, doctor’s offices and schools and hopes to open conversations between adults and children. She hopes to fight what she considers a hearing loss stigma.
Through Sunny, she hopes to draw attention to different aspects of hard-of-hearing culture, such as assistive devices including flashing lights on phones, doorbells and smoke alarms.
She continues to lead a normal life: horse racing, snow-skiing, and being outside. She will write more Sunny books in racing season’s downtime, she said.
“Everyone has challenges in life whether they have a disability or not,” she said. “I’m not going to let life be stopped just because I have cochlear implants.”