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The gift of hearing

November 2018

Community newsletter October Nov 2018 1

From left to right: Mr Phil Bird, Otolaryngologist; Penny Monteath, Rehabilitationist; Belinda van der Monde, Fundraising Manager; Michelle Holland, Recipient; Nikki Cleine, Rehabilitationist; Neil Heslop, General Manager.

In 1998, Otolaryngologist Mr Phil Bird was the first specialist in the South Island to conduct a cochlear implant procedure, and his passion for making a positive impact on patient’s lives continues. “The effects of hearing loss are generally underestimated or ignored. When hearing is reinstated or established for the first time the effects are transformational. It’s special to see the beneficial and broad reaching impact these procedures have on peoples’ lives.”

Mr Bird is a surgeon for the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme, which is responsible for providing publicly-funded implants in the South Island and up to Taupo in the North Island, as well as having a private Otolaryngology practice, working at the Canterbury District Health Board and holding a position as Associate Professor at the University of Otago.Cochlear implants can reconnect those with hearing loss to the world of sound. A cochlear implant transforms speech and other sounds into electrical energy that is used to stimulate surviving auditory nerve fibres in the inner ear.

Michelle Holland was just 30 years old when she became aware that her hearing was deteriorating. Difficulty hearing sounds such as the car indicators blinking and small children speaking alerted Michelle to her situation. “I was 40 years old when I ‘fell off the cliff’ and my hearing became practically non-existent. I was relying on lip reading all of the time.” Michelle waited around two years on the national list to be assessed for implant eligibility and then another 18 months for the procedure to take place. Surgeon Phil Bird was assigned to carry out the implant. “Phil made me feel that I mattered, he has the most amazing bedside manner. He is passionate about his work and helping people live fulfilling lives.”

When the implant was switched on Michelle was able to hear people speak, but not in the way she was used to. “Voices were robotic, chipmunky and tinkly. Over time and with rehabilitation my brain readjusted to the sounds and now things sound similar to my pre-cochlear days.” With her cochlear implant in place Michelle is now grateful for everything she has learnt from the experience. “I actually refer to my hearing loss as good luck, as I have learnt and grown so much from the process. I’ve become a more considered and active listener and I’ve learnt not to sweat the small things in life.”

Currently funding for implants does not cover demand. St George’s assists with funding implants as part of its charitable activity. Should you wish to contribute to the Southern Cochlear Programme, and help provide someone with the gift of hearing, please contact Belinda at


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