Contact: Emily Martinez
University of Texas at Dallas
Pioneering cochlear implant patient returns to encourage others
21 years ago Noble became the first person to receive a cochlear implant through center
The first person to receive a cochlear implant through the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders returned this fall to share his experiences with the parents of younger patients.
Michael Noble was 15 months old when he was diagnosed as profoundly deaf. His acute use of other senses masked his hearing loss until that time. For example, he often turned toward his parents when they entered a room because he felt the vibration of their footsteps.
But when doctors identified his condition, they had a grim prognosis. He would never hear, and he would probably never be able to read or communicate beyond the level of a third-grader.
"I'm very glad that I was able to prove them wrong," Noble said recently, 21 years after receiving his life-changing cochlear implant.
Noble is a graduate of Southern Methodist University and now works as a Colorado-based marketing specialist for Cochlear Americas, one of the world's largest manufacturers of the devices.
Noble spent two days this fall at Callier, a clinical and research center within UT Dallas' School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He met with two groups of parents whose children had recently received cochlear implants. He offered encouraging stories about his own adaptation to the device, and he provided advice on how children can get the most out of increasingly effective technologies.
Callier made a huge difference in his life, Noble said, because its expert clinicians offered access to the best and latest therapies. The cause of his hearing loss has never been identified.
"My parents started bringing me to Callier for preschool as soon as they heard about the special services that were offered for children in my situation," he said. "About a year later, they heard about the development of implants, and they wanted to find out if I could get one."
The implants were experimental, and many experts were skeptical about whether they would greatly improve patients' hearing. When they were first introduced to the U.S. market, nobody in Dallas was offering the surgery.
Noble said his parents were planning to take him to a hospital in Houston, where it was available. But before they made the trip, they heard that Callier, in association with UT Southwestern surgeons, would offer the device to patients.
"The processor was activated two months after the surgery," he said. "The first time I heard – from what my parents tell me – I just pointed to my ears."
Noble continued attending classes and speech therapy at Callier through kindergarten. He said that early intervention "paved the way for success." He eventually entered mainstream classes and performed as well as fully hearing children.
Noble describes his parents as "relentless" in their efforts to help him. "When I give advice to other parents, I love to say, 'Go for it,' " he said. "I'm so glad my parents took the leap of faith and tried cochlear implants. They've given me access to the world of sound, to people around me and to music, which I love."
Michael, who graduated from Southern Methodist University, says his parents were "relentless" in their efforts to help him.
While Noble was at Callier, he met with a variety of parents who were helping their children learn to cope with implants. "Michael is an inspiration to other patients with implants," said Melissa Sweeney, cochlear implant program manager at Callier.
Michelle R. was determined to find a way for her daughter to hear and speak effectively, and she decided to get the little girl implanted when she was 1 year old.
"When we first got the implants, I knew that I just wanted to be able to hear her say, 'Mommy, I love you.' Well, now that she's in kindergarten, she's being told by the teacher to go back to her desk because she's talking too much," the mother said, laughing. "I just love to hear that."
Perhaps surprisingly, Noble said he is grateful for having needed cochlear implants to hear.
"I feel that I've learned a lot about what we can do to overcome challenges, and I've been able to meet some amazing people I never would have known otherwise," he said.
Noble helped pay for his college with a scholarship from Cochlear Americas, and he now helps run that education program.
"It's so nice to now be on the other side," he said. "I really enjoy reaching out to other people with implants, helping them achieve success."
Callier is a member of the Dallas Cochlear Implant Program, a collaboration of The University of Texas at Dallas Callier Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children's Medical Center Dallas.