Future sounds bright for Lakeside couple

Frederick Sansom, 73, of Lakeside, showing off his cochlear implant.

His cochlear implant saved more than his hearing – it also saved his wife’s sanity during lockdown and gave them both the chance of relishing their retirement together, says Frederick Sansom, 73, of Lakeside.

“You can imagine the difficulties we were saved from: two oldies stuck together in lockdown, and me with my hearing difficulties,” he says with a chuckle.

Mr Sansom still cannot believe his good fortune to be found a suitable candidate for a cochlear implant at 73.

He says many years ago he was told these procedures were only done for children, that they cost a million rand at least, and that medical aids would not approve this procedure for him.

Mr Sansom lost the hearing in his one ear as a child. He started losing the hearing in his other ear following a motor vehicle accident as an adult. Over the years, his hearing became progressively worse.

He lived with the slow but steady loss of hearing and the creeping isolation when even the best hearing aids no longer helped him. He was steadily being left out of conversations and missing important information. To his horror, when he flew to London two years ago to bear witness to his son’s marriage, he could not hear the wedding vows exchanged.

Another visit to an audiologist in Tokai changed the trajectory of his story, however, because he was told that he could well be a candidate for a cochlear implant.

Mr Sansom was then referred to the Tygerberg Hospital’s cochlear implant unit where the team of doctors found that he would benefit from intervention.

“After scans are taken of your ear, your details are then given to a committee who look at all the applicants and see who would benefit most,” Mr Sansom says.

On Friday May 22, private ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon Dr Gary Kroukamp successfully implanted the device in Mr Sansom and on Friday June 12, the activation of the implant took place at Tygerberg Hospital. Mr Sansom’s medical aid covered the costs of the procedure.

“There is a period of rather profound deafness after the implant and before it is activated while one heals up from the surgery,” Mr Sansom says.

His greatest delight is being able to hear his sweetheart’s voice properly again.

Mr Sansom spent his first years in South Africa working for the navy in the Simon’s Town dockyard. He was a mechanical engineer who came to South Africa on the Union Castle. This is where and how he met his wife, Mariana. The couple have been married for 43 years.

Next on the list of reclaimed joys is listening to music again. “As my hearing declined, I gave away all of my music collection – I didn’t see the point of it anymore,” he says.

But now, he switches DStv on to the audio channel, and listens to his old favourites with renewed glee.

“I play them all – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues … all the classics.”

Ms Sansom says they were nervous and excited but so very grateful for the cochlear implant team’s help during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“We attended our visits, and after about four weeks, Frederick can hear beyond all understanding, the best in his lifetime. He is making such a wonderful recovery. Soon he will be at a stage where we will only have to attend the Tygerberg cochlear implant unit for check-ups,” she says.

“Nobody will ever understand the gratitude we experience unfolding in our lives. It is a miracle beyond comprehension, and we can only thank this wonderful team at Tygerberg Hospital for making our last years together our best years. We will never ever have words to describe this transformation of our lives through this cochlear implant.”

Once international flights open up again, the couple’s dream is to return to the UK for Mr Sansom to visit family and catch up on all the news he missed out on.

Ms Sansom says the message in her husband’s story is to never stop believing in miracles and second chances.

Mr Sansom says he hopes other people realise cochlear implants are not just for children, and that in certain situations, medical aids can even be persuaded to pay for them.

“I gave up because I thought only children could have them, but now I heard that a 103 year old just had one … this procedure honestly gives us quality of life back and I recommend people pursue their options.”

The Tygerberg Hospital University of Stellenbosch Cochlear Implant Unit sees both private and state patients.

To find out more about cochlear implants, contact Jenny Perold at 021 938 5086 or on email Jennifer.Perold@westerncape.gov.za