TODAY   |  July 23, 2013

Woman has cochlear implant turned on for first time

Sarah Campbell, 57, has been hearing-impaired her whole life, but thanks to a cochlear implant, she will now be able to hear things she has never heard before. TODAY’s Matt Lauer reports, and Campbell’s family joins her as her implant is turned on for the very first time, bringing her to tears.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> awhile someone allows us to be a part of a special moment in their lives and today that's sarah campbell. the 57-year-old teacher and grandmother has been hearing impaired for her whole life. in a moment she is going to let us watch as she hopefully hears things she has never heard before.

>> reporter: sarah campbell of norristown pennsylvania loves the birds in her garden. but never heard one sing.

>> if i can hear the creeks in the house and baby crying and different sounds that you take for granted and i've never heard them.

>> sarah has been hearing impaired since she was a child. her mother ann remembers the moment she knew something was wrong when as a toddler sarah ran into the street.

>> i said sarah , loud, louder than that. and you never looked at me and you never turned around.

>> reporter: fwrgrowing up she used hearing aids and learned how to lip read but as an adult her hearing deteriorated further and the hearing aids no longer worked threatening her jobs as a special education teacher.

>> being in groups and not hearing. very isolated. very alone. i zone out and go into my own little world.

>> but now sarah is stepping outside that world. three weeks ago she went under cochlear implant surgery at the university of pennsylvania to try and restore some of her hearing. cochlear implants consist of two parts. a receiver and stimulator placed in the bone and the inner ear and a magnetic transmitter on the outside which contains a microphone and speech processor.

>> sarah was an ideal candidate because we could still communicate with her in a proper environment for somebody who is very hearing impaired . plus she was highly motivated.

>> this is just preliminary measurements that allow me to keep track of what's going on with the electrodes inside your head.

>> reporter: her motivation was apparent at her last visit at her audiologist to test the electrode.

>> how are you doing.

>> it's fine. it's a different sound. i'm hearing a different sound.

>> reporter: when her implant is finally turned on not only will it be a life changing moment for her but for her family as well.

>> absolutely excited. absolutely. it's the best thing that could happen. just a change.

>> reporter: it's life's simple pleasures she looks forward to most. talking on the phone with her children, hearing her grandfather's first words and of course listening to the birds sing.

>> do i expect miracles? no. but i want to hear better.

>> we don't want to make her wait any longer. she is here with her audiologist and her doctor from the university of pennsylvania . as you can see, sarah 's family and friends are here as well. i just want to say something, michelle, this isn't always a case of flipping a switch or clicking amos and this working immediately, correct.

>> no, it's a process and it may take a few minutes to evolve.

>> okay. sarah , are you ready.

>> i'm very ready, yes.

>> michelle, take it away.

>> so you're going to start hearing some noises.

>> yeah, i hear them.

>> what do you hear, sarah ?

>> i'm hearing -- should i take this hearing aid out.

>> yeah, take your hearing aid out.

>> talk.

>> i'm hearing you. i am hearing you. i've got to make sure i'm not reading your lips though.

>> can i make the sound a little --

>> yeah, make it louder.

>> can you describe what you're hearing?

>> it's noise.

>> describe what the noise sounds like.

>> i'm hearing you. i don't want to look at you because i'm afraid i'm going to say it.

>> sarah , sarah , i want you to look at me right now, does the noise follow my mouth movements.

>> yes, yes. it's following your voice, yes, i'm following your voice.

>> one long sound.

>> yes, yes, i'm hearing you. i'm hearing that.

>> so you're hearing sound.

>> yeah. i'm hearing you.

>> you're hearing me.

>> like, describe what you're hearing --

>> it's very low. i'm even hearing me. i'm hearing me talk.

>> you should. the rest of us hear ourselves.

>> i'm hearing me talk and i'm hearing you talk.

>> i'm going to go a little bit louder.

>> will this improve also over the coming days? or is this once you make the right adjustment here is that it.

>> it will improve over the coming minutes and it will continue to improve over the coming days.

>> continue to improve.

>> we got 30 seconds left. how about letting her hear somebody in her family.

>> i'm hearing her. baby.

>> what does she sound like.

>> it was just hearing, like her, she was laughing i think. yeah. yeah.

>> doctor, this is kind of in keeping with what's the norm.

>> absolutely and we're very excited.

>> sarah , congratulations. we're going to check with you and check in on your progress. thank you guys. thank you so much. we're back after your local news.