Inspirational Melanie is made an ambassador for Cochlear Implant Charity

Imagine waking up and not being able to hear the birds singing. More than 900,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf, meaning they have no choice but to live without the safety and security that sound provides.

But for Melanie Jewett, from Locks Heath, Hampshire, losing her hearing was the catalyst for an incredible journey that would see her win medals while representing her country and even become an ambassador for a support charity. Now she is telling her story to raise awareness for the National Cochlear Implant Users Association.

Melanie was born with normal hearing, but when she was 11 it started to be noticed at school that she wasn’t keeping up with what the teacher was saying. The 44-year-old said: ‘Back then it was just primarily high pitches and then gradually over time it got worse until eight years ago when my hearing just went to nothing.’ Melanie lived with her parents in the early stages of becoming deaf. By the time she completely lost her hearing, she was with her now ex-husband, Michael, 43.‘ He was so supportive, it was brilliant,’ she said. ‘He was behind me all of the way.’ While losing her hearing, Melanie began to rely upon those she loved the most.

People would have to repeat themselves, she would have to lip read a lot and she would have to get others to make her phone calls. ‘In situations where I felt uncomfortable, I was dependent upon people a lot,’ she said. The struggle Melanie faced when losing her hearing completely crumbled any sense of confidence she once had. She said: ‘My confidence went quite low. ‘I’d find myself sitting back and switching off because if I was out with a group of people it could become quite tiring constantly trying to lip read.’ But in July 2010, Melanie had a cochlear implant operation, in the desperate hope of regaining her fifth sense and, ultimately, her independence. It was switched on in August.‘ I had nothing to lose,’ she said. ‘I had almost no hearing left so it couldn’t take away the little bit I had.’

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Different to hearing aids, which can make sounds louder, the cochlear implant works in place of the damaged parts of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain, enabling people to hear again.

While Melanie was driving back from the cochlear implant centre with her mum, Angela Congdon, she began to hear muffled sounds. She started to hear the slight volume of her mum’s voice. However the first crisp definition of sound Melanie could hear was an unusual one. ‘I remember driving back from the Cochlear Implant Centre with my mum in the car and as I drove I remember hearing a ticking noise,’ she said. ‘It was the indicator and that was the first thing out of everything I could hear.’ Her mum Angela shouted ‘you heard it you heard it’ in absolute delight, as if her daughter had truly been blessed by a miracle.

The cochlear implant has been life-changing for Melanie as it enabled her to be independent and to feel in control once again. ‘Even after six years it still amazes me just how much it picks up,’ she said. ‘I can even hear my dog behind me playing with his toy running his claws along the floor.’ Six years on Melanie is coping well with her new piece of kit. She is currently single, and enjoying life living with her beloved Jack Russell Dylan. ‘He’s my little doorbell,’ she joked. Although Melanie has can hear once again, she admits phone calls continue to be something she struggles with. The muffled tone received through the line of the telephone is still posing problems. But this doesn’t faze her as she says she will push herself to make and answer phone calls.

She has continued in her job, which she has had for 19 years, working for IBM in Portsmouth as a process co-ordinator. And she says she was grateful to her employer for having so much patience while she was struggling to cope with losing her hearing – and then getting the cochlear implant. She said: ‘IBM have been absolutely brilliant following me through this journey.’

As well participating in the routines of everyday life, Melanie has also achieved something truly inspirational for her country. In 2013 she took part in the Deaflympics in Sofia, winning bronze for Team GB in the marathon with an impressive time of 3hrs 23mins 54sec. The race was held away from the main games themselves and took place in Fussen, Germany. Just eight days after the marathon, Melanie took part in the 10,000m on track in Sofia in blistering conditions of 38C, coming sixth. ‘I got the first medal for team GB as well and by the time I met the rest of the team in Bulgaria everyone was really excited,’ she said. ‘With the time I did on the day I’m the British record holder for the UK for deaf people running the marathon.’

Losing her hearing has allowed Melanie to participate and achieve something which so many people will never achieve in their lives. Along with everything else Melanie does in her busy life, she is also the ambassador for The National Cochlear Implant Users Association. She says the association has provided her with support and she hopes to be an inspiration to others. Now she plans to continue embracing her life and regaining hearing, raising awareness and telling the story of her journey. Melanie says she hopes to be a great example, showing people they shouldn’t let anything stop them from achieving their life goals.

Abstract from report in Portsmouth News newspaper – April 2016

Viewers might like to see some videos that Melanie been involved with at the AIS, Southampton.