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Memories of hearing spur plea

Diane Larsen has a story she'd like everyone to hear. And she means everyone — especially those who can't hear.

"I want to let people know that you can have hearing loss and you can still talk and succeed — and hear — in a hearing world," says the education consultant for the Utah School of the Deaf and the Blind.

For a role model, she can think of no one better than . . . herself.

Diane's hearing was perfect until she was 4 1/2 years old. As a little girl, she could distinguish the most intricate of sounds. She covered her ears when a jet plane took off. She heard raindrops splash outside her window. She was "normal."

Then she contracted spinal meningitis, an infection of the spinal cord that wiped out her hearing. In a twinkling, her world became a soundless place.

This was in the early 1960s and Diane became a part of the traditional deaf culture, learning to sign and read lips. She overcame her lack of hearing to get a college education, marry, raise four children and live an otherwise healthy, happy, productive life.

But in the back of her brain — literally — was the memory of those days when she was young and could hear the birds chirp and the thunder roll.

Then, 18 months ago, those memories were unlocked when she received a cochlear implant in her right ear. Cochlear implants are surgically placed transmitters that circumvent the damaged cochlea — the ear's nerve center — and make direct contact with the auditory nerve. They are expensive ($70,000 — luckily, Diane's health insurance covered the bulk of the cost) and they do not provide perfect hearing. But they are considerably more effective than even the most advanced outer-ear digital hearing aids.

In a twinkling, Diane's world became loud again. She heard the beeper on her dishwasher, the rustling of a sandwich wrapper, her husband's breathing; she even heard her children complaining about her behind her back.

"Before, they knew I could only hear what they were saying if we were face to face. After I got the implant, I heard one of my teenagers grumble in back of me and I said, 'What did you say?' and she said, 'Mom, you heard that?!' " Diane says, still smiling at the memory.

Diane Larsen wants to shout out to the world the importance of making sure the brain is "hearing educated." She wants to tell every parent of a hearing-challenged youngster to take advantage of today's technology that can orient the brain to a world of sound.

She knows that it's only because of her first four and a half years of hearing that she has been able, thanks to advances in technology, to relearn much of what she once knew.

She knows that every hearing-impaired child needs to hear as much as he or she possibly can by taking advantage of all the training and technology that is available.

"The brain has to keep the auditory pathway open," she says. "It is extremely important that children are amplified as early as possible. By the time they're five, it can be too late."

That is why, after 20-plus years as a stay-at-home mom, Diane has gone to work full time as a roaming consultant for the Utah School of the Deaf and Blind, armed with the message that "it's never too early."

"I feel I am in a position where I can teach people what is happening when a baby is born with a hearing loss," she says. "My goal is to let them know what is available, that they have choices."

More than anything, she just wants them to listen.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.