Watch 3 people hear for the 1st time, thanks to cochlear implants (video)

A really touching video of a 39-year-old woman in Birgmingham, England being filmed by her mother as her new cochlear implants are turned on for the first time, and she finally hears. (Her mom was filming.)

Her name is Joanna Milne, and she was born deaf (and then went blind in her 20s). So this quite literally is the first time she’s ever heard anyone speak in her life.


I’m curious how she understood her doctor speaking if she’d never heard English spoken before. I could learn Chinese on paper, but I would have no idea how to speak it, nor would I have any idea how to understand it if someone else were speaking. Then again, Milne can speak English, so perhaps that means she can understood it spoken as well. (I’m actually curious now, how does one teach a deaf person to speak – to actually pronounce the words if they can’t hear the words in order to mimic them – does anyone know?)

I’d originally thought this was a video that we’d posted a while back, but it’s not. I’ve found two more videos we’d posted before, they’re after this one below.

And this woman had been deaf since the age of two:


And this one might just be my favorite – the 3-year-old boy who hears his dad’s voice for the first time. His expression is priceless.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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19 Responses to “Watch 3 people hear for the 1st time, thanks to cochlear implants (video)”

  1. OrliJoe in Fla says:

    Hmmm… I wasn’t aware of the failures either, but you make an excellent point, John.

  2. Naja pallida says:

    Overall failure rate is somewhere around 2%, but I’m not exactly sure what that number specifically includes, if it’s just device failure, surgical failure, or if it also includes a failure to adapt to making use of it. I would presume all of the above, but the study briefs aren’t very descriptive. Incidence of facial nerve paralysis is less than a percent, and treatable to full recovery, without removing the implant, if addressed promptly and properly.

    I can certainly understand people who don’t feel the need to be “fixed”, and don’t really like the idea of parents making the decision for children without accepting them and teaching them the way they are, but there is a lot of fear mongering about cochlear implants.

  3. flocculent says:

    So you’re saying there is a failure rate of what, 96% for this procedure (dozens of “failures” for every success)? That sounds a bit unlikely. Selection bias, maybe?

  4. Cletus says:

    Thank you for going there, John.

  5. That’s interesting about the failures, I didn’t know about that. But I think your last point gets to the crux of the matter, which I’d read about before:

    “Imagine how the Gay community would feel if their parents were implanting them to try to make them straight… Lots of Gay people would be against it…”

    It’s a fascinating question, as to whether gay is deaf. Meaning, a lot of people who aren’t deaf think of being deaf as a “defect.” Not unlike what Dr. Laura said about gay people back in 2000, calling us a “biological error.” Gay people don’t like to think of themselves as “errors” any more than deaf people like to think of themselves as “defective.” As for being cured, trust me, a lot of gay people, on realizIng they were gay, prayed for a cure. The more interesting question is whether, knowing what you know now, if a cure existed, would you take it? As a gay person, or a deaf person.

  6. Krusher says:

    Oh, duh! (smacks head against wall)

  7. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    If she’s really blind, she can’t read lips.

  8. The_Fixer says:

    I’ll take a bit of a guess on this. She’s probably used to feeling vibrations from sound, including those coming from her own voice. I’d imagine that hearing sound that does not cause vibrations, such as a higher-pitched voice, is a surprise to her.

    I would also think that they prepared her for this in some way, perhaps explaining the difference between high and low pitches before they turned the implants on. I can only imagine what kind of confusion that anyone who has not heard anything before in their life experiences without any kind of preparation. It could be pretty overwhelming, I’d imagine.

    I read an interesting article about a blind man who had his sight restored. It was quite an adjustment for him. Especially when it came to depth perception and moving objects – he had real problems with catching a ball.

  9. Deaf guy says:

    Not normal in any way… There are more channels than there used to be, but it’s still a computerized version of sound… which doesn’t work for many kids or adults who get implants…

  10. Deaf guy says:

    How about the fact that to put in a CI, the doctors have to drill a hole in a baby’s head and stick a metal wire into their brain, which sometimes causes paralysis? And for MANY of the kids who get them, they don’t work, and they’re left with a wire in their brain and a magnet attached to their head forever?

    For every one of these “wonderful” stories, I can show you dozens of my Deaf students who understand nothing and end up taking them off… whose parents consider them “failures” because they aren’t hearing…

    Imagine how the Gay community would feel if their parents were implanting them to try to make them straight… Lots of Gay people would be against it…

  11. pappyvet says:

    I love posts like this John. Thanks.

  12. Cletus says:

    What I can’t figure out is how she knows the pitch is “high”? What’s her frame of reference?

  13. Cletus says:

    What I can’t understand is the part of the deaf community that outright rejects cochlear implants and those who get them.

  14. OrliJoe in Fla says:

    Oh my, like Cletus said, it’s so overwhelming to watch. It’s awesome that we’re working to cure some deafness, it’s awesome !

  15. Bose says:

    Spoken language isn’t just auditory, it’s tactile and visual. So, it’s not at all unusual for deaf people to be taught what sounds look and feel like. “P” creates a puff of air, but with a different visual than an “F” sound. As the skills are developed, demonstrated by Milne, people know what words look like while spoken, and then feel like as they’re speaking themselves.

    So, it’s not at all unusual for deaf folks to be fluent speakers.

  16. Cletus says:

    Overwhelming to watch.

  17. goulo says:

    There’s a sort of similar weird effect when you’ve been in a foreign country and don’t understand the language – you automatically tune out & ignore all the conversations around you. Then when you return home and automatically understand all the many random conversations around you, it’s like noise you can’t turn off and can’t ignore! :)

  18. She can get away, it looks like the implants are attached to wires. If you noticed, the doctor tells her to be careful at the beginning when she’s moving her hands near her ears. But it is a good point – and you’d have to ask a deaf person about it. Is it strange, annoying, having so much noise all the time? Or do their brains eventually learn to ignore it? I found it interesting how the doc repeatedly told her that the high pitch of the voice would change as her brain got accustomed to it. That’s just bizarre, and fascinating. Change to what? To “normal,” the normal sound of a human voice, the actual sound (whatever that means)? Just fascinating stuff.

  19. Krusher says:

    I just watched the Joanna Milne one. To me the most bizarre, surreal and emotional experience imaginable. Maybe she understood the doctor because she was reading her lips. The thing is, having always having had silence, what if she gets tired of noise? She can never really get away from it now.

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