'Life is sounding pretty good'
Former teacher gets encouragement from student to have surgery to improve hearing
DETROIT LAKES — Tracy Peachmann stood in front of a class looking back at her with inquisitive eyes. After one too many of those moments, she accepted her hearing impairment had become too detrimental to continue teaching.
The former Detroit Lakes High School Spanish teacher used hearing aids for several years, but in 2016 she informed the school administration of her intent to retire early.
She spent a year in mourning, as teaching was a lifelong passion for the Detroit Lakes resident. With muted or missed conversations, Peachmann saw her extroverted self dwindle, retreat and transform into a world of solitude.
There was an option to bring her hearing back, but it required a device to be implanted in her ear through surgery. Thoughts of laying on the operating table frayed her nerves, so she put off the decision presented by her audiologist.
Last summer, Peachmann connected with a former student during a celebration of life ceremony. The serendipitous meeting changed Peachmann’s life.
Christopher Mohs, who took Spanish from Peachmann, developed a hearing impairment in 2015.
“It was a sudden hearing loss (one side),” explained the son of Detroit Lakes resident Bonnie and the late Al Mohs. “One morning I woke up and my ear felt like it had wax build-up.”
The problem never went away. The 1998 Detroit Lakes High School graduate went through a lengthy process to identify why his hearing was failing, and what could be done to improve it. At first, much like Peachmann, he was given a hearing aid.
“That worked for about four years,” he recalled.
He was informed about cochlear implants, but much like his former teacher, Mohs was hesitant.
“I was worried about losing the residual hearing I had left,” he said, adding insurance didn’t cover the surgery for single-sided deafness, at that point.
About six months into his hearing loss the FDA approved cochlear implants for single-sided deafness, but he remained tethered to the ‘what if’ scenario. He wondered if technology was on the horizon that could repair his impairment. He feared the permanent surgery would prevent new technology from being an option.
“My dad was blind, and there was always a constant hope on the horizon, but it never came,” Mohs said. “I thought, what would Dad say about it (getting the implant)?”
Without hesitation, Mohs said he answered himself aloud, “Do it.”
He had his cochlear implant surgery in May 2021. In time, conversations in groups became possible. He was able to sing and hear his own voice. Mohs said, in many regards, he had regained his life.
When he heard about Peachmann’s hesitancy, he shared the possibility that awaited her, and offered insight into the process from a patient perspective.
Implant discussion started with audiologist
Peachmann’s journey to having a cochlear implant surgery began much like Mohs — through a referral from an audiologist, followed by hearing tests.
Audiologist Mary Richter, who works at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes, said some are able to correct impairments with a hearing aid, which amplifies sound. Those with severe hearing loss may need a cochlear implant. The implant uses electrical impulses to transmit sound to the hearing nerve.
If a cochlear implant is an option, the candidate meets with a surgeon, such as Dr. Matthew Miller of Sanford in Fargo, N.D. While the field is specialized, Miller said for him, and the other specialist on staff, “The surgery is common.” On average, he does about 70 cochlear implants each year, spanning from ages 9 months to 97 years. The surgery takes about 1 ½ hours and the patient goes home the same day.
“Generally, it is uneventful,” he said. “It is routine surgery and low risk.”
Once the surgery is done, the patient must allow adequate time for recovery, meaning the swelling must decrease. When a patient is ready, they meet again with the audiologist, a speech therapist and other professionals to help transform the electric sound into something recognizable.
Mohs shared his success story with Peachmann, which gave her the nudge she needed.
“After I was open to the idea, the ball rolled quickly,” she said. “I was glad it moved so fast.”
When the cochlear implant was turned on, Peachmann was able to hear, but the sounds were otherworldly.
“Everyone’s voice sounded like a Smurf,” she said, noting another example that happened while out hiking with her husband. “I kept hearing the sound a car makes when it is drifting out of its lane. I wondered where the car was. My husband explained to me what I was hearing was a bird.”
Peachmann acknowledged her family and friends have played a big part in her recovery, a process that is ongoing. She noted it took about eight months for her hearing to begin sounding normal.
“I’ve been told I’m an unusual case because I rebounded so quickly,” she said.
The rebound undoubtedly had to do with her hard work ethic and dedication to therapy. Audiobooks are a daily occurrence, she engages in conversations and even started taking piano lessons.
“I played piano as a kid,” she said. “I wanted to take up lessons again but didn’t think it was in the cards for me. Now, life is sounding pretty good.”