Eleven-year-old Jack Coombs is a “speed tornado.”
Updated: Oct 24
Cochlear implants provide children and adults who are hard of hearing with access to sound, but receiving an implant isn’t simply about hearing.
In his mother’s words, 11-year-old Jack Coombs is a “speed tornado.”
“He’s a very busy boy,” Kirstin Johnson-Coombs says.
“He’s got personality-plus and so much energy – implants have opened up a whole new world for him.”
Jack, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, had his first cochlear implant operation just before his second birthday, and his second at two and a half.
Although it was a tough and stressful time, it wasn’t a new experience for the Tauranga-based family. Older brother Reid Johnson also has cochlear implants and mum Kirstin experienced mild hearing loss 20 years ago, which she manages with hearing aids.
Eighteen-year-old Reid is working casually at TenPin Tauranga and is on the hunt for a full-time job. He bought his first car last year, which he slept in for 12 days during a family camping trip in January.
Both boys were born with Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct (EVA) syndrome and Kirstin says cochlear implants have changed their lives.
EVA is caused by a malformation in the inner ear. It can cause hearing loss and can also affect balance.
“Jack’s first implant was a success,” Kirstin says, “but as a family we had some trepidation around the insertion of the second one. We knew there was a risk it might not work, but Jack hasn’t shut up since!”
The Hearing House has been a key part of the family’s support network over the past 10+ years, and Kirstin says a huge bonus is being able to see The Hearing Houses’s outreach clinicians in Tauranga or Whakatane, rather than having to make the six-monthly journey to Auckland and back.
“The Hearing House has been phenomenal,” she says. “It’s been quite a journey, but we couldn’t have done it without them. Their therapists totally get Jack – they know he’s a bundle of energy, and just know how to handle him. That takes a huge load off me.”
The programmes and services offered by SCIP and The Hearing House include assessment, cochlear implant surgery, listening and spoken language therapy, audiology, and outreach programmes for regional and remote patients. Both organisations are also committed to clinical research and professional development.
Surgery and the subsequent switch-on are only one part of the cochlear implant process. Patients need to learn how to use the technology and interpret the new sounds through ongoing audiology and speech and language therapy.
Kirstin has been active with helping run a family support group for those affected by hearing loss, which she established when Jack was first diagnosed.
"I wish we'd had a group like that for support when Reid was first diagnosed," she says.
"We’ve helped a lot of families since starting the group, and we’ve developed many friendships from the group as well.
“Reid and Jack are both happy and well-adjusted boys with a very supportive and loving family, but we’ll see where life takes the both of them,” says Kirstin.
“They’re very much their own people – special and unique.”