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Video: Deaf woman hears own voice in dramatic video

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: We are back now at 20 after 8 with a story I love, a woman who just heard her own voice for the very first time. Twenty-nine -year-old Sarah Churman was born with a rare genetic deformity that made her badly hearing impaired . But now she's received a device called the Esteem Hearing Implant , and her husband was rolling with a camera when she tried it out for the first time . Take a look.

    Ms. SARAH CHURMAN (Can Now Hear After Being Hearing Impaired Since Birth): That one's beeping.

    MELINDA: So now technically your device is on. Can you tell?

    Offscreen Voice: Good.

    MELINDA: ...it's exciting. Here, you can put it down for a second. Just get used to the sound. What's it sound like? Do you want to grab some tissue?

    Ms. CHURMAN: I don't want to hear myself cry.

    MELINDA: Can you hear me ?

    LAUER: That video has now been viewed more than four million times on YouTube . Sarah and her husband, Sloan , are with us exclusively along with NBC 's chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman . Good morning to you all. Sarah , what a pleasure to meet you.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Thanks.

    LAUER: The video speaks for its -- you're crying again just watching it.

    Ms. CHURMAN:

    LAUER: Here, wait, I have tissue. There you go.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Thank you.

    LAUER: The moment speaks for itself, but try to explain what you were thinking at that moment.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Millions of things. Half of me was just scared to death that it was going to come on and I wasn't going to like it just because, you know, before, this is all I've ever known for 29 years. So the new -- the fear of the unknown and not knowing what it was going to sound like. Was it going to be overwhelming? And it was just nervousness, and then the other half of me was just like, 'Oh, hurry up and turn it on.' And I was so nervous I kept moving the remote, and the remote had to be a certain spot to get it turned on, so it was like the third try before it actually happened, so the anticipation was horrible.

    LAUER: For the record, the very first voice you heard was the voice of the technician.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yes, ma'amI believe her name was Melinda .

    LAUER: And then your own voice. Did it sound the way you imagined it would sound?

    Ms. CHURMAN: Well, the funny thing is, you know, we live in Texas and the first time we ever traveled outside of the country everyone kept talking about our accent, so I was kind of surprised that I didn't think I had an accent.

    LAUER: Which is -- I was surprised also because not being able to hear for 29 years and you do have a little bit of a Texas accent, so you've managed to pick something up. Sloan , you decided to roll on this so that you could share the moment with family and friends. You put it on YouTube and, boy, it went way beyond family and friends. What's your reaction to that?

    Mr. SLOAN CHURMAN: I can't get over the fact that I nearly did not video it. If it weren't for my mother saying, 'You're going to video this. We need to see this,' I wouldn't have done it because it was -- this was intimate for us. This was like getting married or having a child. I mean, seriously.

    LAUER: It is intimate. And when I started to read more about you, Sarah , what made it even more emotional for me was that this did not come easily. You didn't just write a check and say, 'Yeah, I want one of those .' This is an expensive device; it's an expensive operation. You really, you two, had to scrimp and save and borrow to get this done.

    Mr. CHURMAN: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yes, sir.

    Mr. CHURMAN: Yes.

    LAUER: I mean, that makes it even nicer.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yeah, very much more appreciative, absolutely.

    LAUER: Nancy , people watching this are going to be moved by the sheer emotion of it, then perhaps curious.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Right.

    LAUER: Maybe they know somebody who's severely hearing impaired . Tell me about her condition and who else might be a candidate.

    SNYDERMAN: And you hit on, I think, the most important thing, Matt. You can tell by Sarah 's speech that she's had some ability to hear because she can articulate words pretty darn well, but you can also tell that she's a little -- she's had a severe impairment just by her speech pattern. But the cool thing about this is it uses the normal anatomy of the ear. So it takes the little bones in the middle ear, sends them to a processor, then sends them to the nerve that goes into the brain, and it's -- then -- this -- all this garbled stuff is turned into sound so she can really hear it. Hearing aids normally have a lot of background noise and distortion. This makes it much better. It's a surgical implantation proved by the FDA , but only a couple hundred people in the country have them.

    LAUER: Think of what you're getting to hear for the first time . You have two children, four months old and 20 months old. To hear their voices and their sounds for the first time , what was that like?

    Ms. CHURMAN: That was pretty amazing. My oldest is actually four years old and she's quite the little talker. She sounds so grown-up and very articulate. And then my youngest, she has -- I can hear the Texas accent on -- in -- on her voice, though.

    SNYDERMAN: And she still has a way to go yet.

    LAUER: Yeah.

    SNYDERMAN: She's dialing this up to max yet. She hasn't even gotten there, so.

    LAUER: And for the first time you got to hear Sloan snore.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yeah, I didn't -- I didn't listen to that for very long.

    Mr. CHURMAN: No.

    SNYDERMAN: That's where you turn it down.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yeah.

    LAUER: You turn it back off.

    Ms. CHURMAN: Yeah.

TODAY contributor
updated 10/3/2011 9:58:26 AM ET 2011-10-03T13:58:26

Severely hearing impaired since birth, Sarah Churman had long managed to cope in a world where sounds came as if they were under water. But now, a surgical implant lets her hear her own voice, the sounds of birds singing, her two daughters chattering — and her husband snoring.

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Video: Deaf woman hears own voice in dramatic video (on this page)

“Yeah, that I didn’t listen to very long!” Churman told Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday as she recounted her first full week in the world of the hearing.

The pretty, 29-year-old Texan has became an internet sensation, thanks to a video taken by her husband, Sloan, as she heard her voice for the very first time last week. In the video, Sarah becomes overwhelmed with emotion, covering her mouth and bursting into tears, as she first hears herself talking. “I don’t want to hear myself cry,” she says and then laughs as she turns to her husband.

Sloan Churman posted the video on YouTube so friends and family could also witness the medical miracle, but a whole lot of others also looked in — 4 million at last count. Appearing with his wife, Sloan told Lauer he almost didn’t tape the groundbreaking family event at all.

“I nearly didn’t videotape it, if it wasn’t for my mother saying, ‘You’re GOING to video this, we need to see this,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it, because this was intimate for us; this was like getting married or having a child. I mean, seriously.”

Sarah was born with a rare genetic deformity that means she's missing the hair in her inner ear that transmits sound to the brain. She was fitted with her first hearing aid at age 2, but even with that technology she could only hear some vibrations and loud noises. She compensated throughout her life by becoming adept at reading people’s lips.

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But earlier this year, Sloan Churman heard a radio ad for the Esteem Inner Ear Stimulator, billed as the only full implantable hearing aid for what his wife suffered from — sensorineural hearing loss.

The $30,000 implant was pricey for the working class family. But they saved and borrowed — Sloan’s mother helped out greatly — and in July, Sarah had the procedure.

She told Lauer “millions of things” went through her mind as she prepared to hear her own voice for the first time last week.

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“Half of me was just scared to death, that it was going to come on and I wasn’t going to like it, just because…this is all I’ve ever known for 29 years,” she said. “So the fear of the unknown, not knowing what it was going to sound like can be overwhelming. And it was just nervousness, (but) then the other half of me, ‘Oh hurry up and turn it on!’"

Sarah learned despite not being able to hear, she has a distinct Texas accent. “The funny thing is…the first time we traveled outside the country, everyone kept talking about our accents, so I was kind of surprised — I didn’t think I had an accent,” she told Lauer.

But perhaps the biggest blessing was being able to hear the voices of her daughters, ages 4 and 20 months.

“That was pretty amazing,” she said. “My oldest (is) quite the little talker; she sounds so grown up and very articulate. And my youngest, I can hear the Texas accent in her voice.”

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According to TODAY medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the fact that Sarah has an accent and can enunciate words fairly clearly shows she has had some hearing ability, but the still-new procedure is a distinct improvement on what a regular hearing aid can do.

“The cool thing about this is it uses the normal anatomy of the ear, so it takes the little bones in the middle ear, sends them to a processor, then sends them to the nerve that goes into the brain, and all this garbled stuff is turned into sound, so she can really hear it,” Snyderman said.

“Hearing aids normally have a lot of background noise and distortion; this makes it much better. It’s a surgical implantation approved by the FDA, but only a couple of hundred people have them.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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