Hunter Hero: Hearing advocate Sue Jenkins used willpower to get her life back

DETERMINED: Sue Jenkins was the first woman in the Hunter to receive a cochlear implant. She now uses the trauma of losing her own hearing to help others.

DETERMINED: Sue Jenkins was the first woman in the Hunter to receive a cochlear implant. She now uses the trauma of losing her own hearing to help others.

IT was Valentine’s Day, 2006, when Sue Jenkins lost the strongest link to staying connected.

“Our whole world is based on communication, speech and listening, and I just had none,” she said. “I went from being a hearing person to nothing.”

The Cardiff woman went profoundly deaf on that day and was confronted with a $40,000 bill for a cochlear implant to treat her large vestibular aqueduct syndrome. It was a treatment she could not afford. At that time, patients were required to pay the full amount, and no adult had ever had the device surgically implanted in the Hunter.

Mrs Jenkins would become the first woman to ever have a cochlear implant installed in Newcastle, but not without a struggle. 

The mother-of-four would need to learn how to communicate with only pen and paper. She would have to learn to lip read.

Some days, she said, the impact of losing her hearing was so great she couldn’t get out of bed.

“It was very dark,” she said.

“Losing my hearing was absolutely devastating. I wasn’t myself and that was very hard to get used to.”

With a determination to be there for her family, she knew she had to get out of the rut and “do something as quickly as I could”.

“I found the strength to raise the money [for the operation],” she said.

“And because of all the amazing people around me I was able to.”

Mrs Jenkins was a much-loved staff member at Charlton Christian College in Fassifern. The school community rallied around her.

A little more than a year later and Mrs Jenkins had the money to receive the cochlear implant, which was provided by the newly opened Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre Newcastle, a service of the Royal Institute of Deaf and Blind Children.

“Two weeks later they switched it on … the first words I heard were my husband asking what was for dinner,” she joked.

Mrs Jenkins said being able to hear again “gave back my life”.

She now works as a chaplain in aged care and uses her experience to help bring people out of dark places.

“What I want to do is offer people hope,” she said. “People supported me and I want to support others. People go into dark places and that happens, but there is someone out there who cares for you.”

Mrs Jenkins is an advocate for healthy hearing and encourages people to get their ears regularly checked.

“My message is to look after your hearing,” she said. “You don’t know how important it is until you’ve lost it.”

One in six Australians suffers hearing loss. The figure is expected to increase to one in four by 2050.

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