Overcoming Obstacles: Sofia
HOW does Sofia hear?
With her passport in hand, a chocolate bar to enjoy, and one hearing aid and one cochlear implant!
All About Me
Hi, I’m Sofia! I am 24-years-old and a senior at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC). I am studying chemistry and entrepreneurship. I came to the USA four years ago as an international student from Venezuela.
Hearing My Way
I started to lose my hearing when I was 11-years-old. I began to wear two hearing aids, and that helped me for a long time. By the time I was 23 though, my left ear had lost so much hearing that the hearing aid wasn’t helping anymore. I knew it was time for a cochlear implant, but in my country, the surgery is very, very expensive. I started a fundraising campaign (Help Sofia Hear Again) to raise money for my cochlear implant surgery. After a year, I raised enough funds to pay for my cochlear implant. Now I wear a Resound hearing aid and Cochlear Kanso cochlear implant. For many years the cause of my hearing loss was a mystery but recently I was diagnosed with a rare, progressive autoimmune inner ear disease.
After I created my fundraiser Help Sofia Hear Again for my own cochlear implant, I wanted to pay it forward to other people like me who need funding for hearing devices. During the year of fundraising, I felt firsthand how stressful it was to feel like I wanted to hear so badly but couldn’t afford it yet. It made me passionate about helping people gain access to hearing. I started an NGO (a non-profit) in my country to provide help to people in need of hearing aids and batteries. I love to give back to the community whenever I can!
I am so glad I was able to overcome my biggest obstacle of raising the money I needed for my cochlear implant surgery. Of course, every day with hearing loss presents new challenges. In a large group of people, it can be very hard to keep up with everything people are saying. Sometimes I end up three conversations behind! I have to ask people to repeat what they said until I understand. I have learned to have a lot of patience with myself and with others so I don’t get frustrated.
Silence is Golden
Even though I love my cochlear implant, I also think there are benefits to having hearing loss. I love my silent time—I can put everyone on ‘mute’! This is especially handy when I’m studying and need to concentrate.
My sister is very understanding about my hearing loss. She has always been there to help me, especially when we go out together. In a noisy restaurant, she will repeat questions for me that I miss or don’t understand. She has also been very helpful during episodes of vertigo (dizziness).
Ask Me About My Ears
When people ask me about my hearing devices, I am always happy to show them my hearing aid and cochlear implant. I think people have so much to learn about hearing loss, and I am happy to bring awareness for anyone who seems interested. I want to break the stigma and show others that people with hearing loss are capable of the same things as people without hearing loss!
My favorite product is the mini microphone. I use it in all my classes and in large groups of people. It is connected via Bluetooth to my hearing aid and cochlear implant. I can hear the teacher clearly, and I can also use it to listen to music and take calls on my phone.
Coming to the U.S. as an international student can be challenging for anyone, but I think it was especially challenging with a hearing loss! It meant talking and hearing in another language— my third language, in fact. It was hard, but I got used to new sounds. I soon realized how lucky people in the U.S. are to have access to good health care, a luxury that many people in my country cannot afford. It opened my eyes to the world and made me want to make it a better place. Not only do I now have the ability to hear, but I feel I have a responsibility to pass it on by helping other people hear as well.
I am studying to be a chemist and hope to have a social impact on people. I believe all of us face challenges, and we can all make something positive out of those challenges. My hearing loss is a part of who I am, but it does not define me. I am much more than just a person with hearing loss! I am capable of anything, and you are, too. Hearing loss does not limit me—the only thing that can limit me is myself.
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