Venita Paget of Tooele recently had a cochlear implant to restore her hearing. She has been deaf since childhood. At 85, she is beginning a new chapter in her life due to this procedure.
At nine months old, Venita became very sick. She lived in Montpelier, Idaho, at the time with her parents, sister and two brothers.
“They thought I was going to die,” she said. “My father carried me on a pillow because my joints hurt so much when I was picked up and held. My grandfather gave me a priesthood blessing that I would live, and I believe that blessing has helped me my whole life.”
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that men holding the priesthood have the power to give blessings of health, which is the type of blessing Venita referenced.
Because of this illness, Venita lost her hearing.
Her son, Michael Paget, said, “She lost all hearing in her left ear, and only had 2 or 3 percent hearing in her right ear.”
“My parents, brothers and sister were so good to me,” Venita said. “They took such good care of me and looked out for me. When I had earaches as a small child, they would take turns blowing warm air into my ears to make my ears hurt less. I know it hurt my folks. I know it hurt them a lot. That’s why they took the time and effort to help me.”
When Venita was 12, she and her sister walked by a doctor’s office in Salt Lake City. Venita’s sister asked if she wanted to go in to see the doctor. They did so, and when the doctor looked at Venita, he asked if she had been sick as a child.
“We told him yes and described my illness,” Venita said. “He said that I had Spinal Meningitis, which had burned the ear nerve. I don’t know how he could tell that by looking in my eyes.”
Daughter-in-law Margie Paget asked Venita why she speaks so well since she was deaf since childhood. Venita said she didn’t know but credits her family with helping her.
“I learned to read lips early. I think my grandfather’s blessing helped me with lip reading and talking,” she said. Venita had no special schooling or training to learn to speak.
Venita’s usual happy countenance turned glum when she told of her experiences with school.
“I did pretty good in elementary school. The teachers worked with me and I always had a desk in the front of the room. I would watch them closely,” she said as she turned from side to side as if following the teacher with her eyes. “But when I went to ninth grade, I couldn’t handle it and I had to quit.”
Venita received her first ear phone at age 17. She was living in Salt Lake City and working as a stockroom clerk at W.T. Grant, which is a 10 cent store. Later, Venita met her husband Earl through his uncle, and they moved to his hometown of Tooele.
“We were married Dec. 3, 1949,” said Venita, sounding happy with that pronouncement. Earl passed away a few years ago, and it has been hard for her because she depended on him to help communicate with others.
Her son, Mike, said that when he was born his father helped let his mother know when he was crying so she could care for him. Proudly and with much emotion, Venita said, “When Michael was 4-years-old he would help me with (younger sister) Claudia. He was my biggest right arm when he was a little boy, even when I was wearing an ear phone, and still does.” Mike’s eyes were filled with tears as Venita told this story. “I don’t know if I ever told you that,” she said to Mike. Mike nodded yes, as he was too filled with emotion to speak.
With all that she has experienced going through life being deaf, she is going through a very new and wonderful experience. This year, Venita has been given a new opportunity to hear through a cochlear implant.
While seeing Dr. Ventura, an ENT in Tooele, she was tested to see if she was a candidate for a cochlear implant.
“I was a candidate, but I was nervous about having the surgery. About a year later I started losing what hearing I did have and decided to have the surgery,” said Venita.
“She had a disease in her ear that was causing the hearing loss,” explained her son, Mike. Margie, added, “It’s called Paget’s Disease. It’s even spelled the same as our last name.”
A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.
Venita is a small woman with a sweet personality. She doesn’t like to have a lot of attention, but she was excited to share her experience with the cochlear implant, a procedure that is changing her life.
“It was scary”, she recalls. “I had questions, lots of questions. But I was enthused, looking forward to something I had never imagined.
“First they did the surgery to put the magnet under the skin,” she said lifting up her hair to show the spot right behind her right ear.
“It’s the receiver of the sound,” she said. “There is a coil that goes down through the pathway to the cochlear. They put something like a headset on the outside of my head to test whether I could hear.”
Mike said that he and Claudia were at the appointment with their mother when they realized she was able to answer the questions being asked of her, instead of one of them having to interpret for her.
“The hardest thing was having to wait for three weeks for the site of the surgery to heal before I could have the outside part of the procedure,” Venita said. “I wasn’t able to hear for those three weeks, and it was a very long wait.”
When asked what it was like to be able to hear, she answered, “Cloud nine, it was just cloud nine to be able to hear so many things I’ve never been able to hear before.”
“My daughter, Claudia, and her husband, Kevin, took me to lunch at Jim’s Restaurant, and for the first time I heard the plates being placed on the table. I’d never heard that before. I even heard my dog’s nails as he pattered across the tile in the kitchen.”
Venita said, “I wondered ‘how is it going to be? How is it going to sound?’” Her face lit up as she said, “It is wonderful — amazing to hear things I’ve never heard before.” Her voice softened as she told of hearing the voices of her family.
“I used to go up in my room and turn the television on and watch my shows in peace and quiet. There is no more peace and quiet. I hear the neighbors. I hear dogs outside. I hear everything around!”
Another annoying sound Venita noticed after having the implant is the clicking her cane makes as it hits the floor or cement.
She said, “When I started losing my hearing, I started losing my balance and had to start using a cane.”
The doctor told her that she would not get her balance back once it was gone. When she came out of the clinic and heard the clicking noise, she asked her kids what that clicking sound was.
“It drives me crazy!” exclaimed Venita.
“At the hospital they said I had to quit reading lips, quit watching television with the captioning — just listen to the sound, and to listen to the radio,” she said. “It is going to take some time to stop reading lips. I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Referring to the radio, she said, “I can listen to the radio, but not the symphony. There are too many instruments. It is too confusing.”
“Lisa, Dr. Shelton’s assistant, took me into a little room to test my hearing. She put a paper in front of her face so that I couldn’t read her lips. I had to concentrate to listen. I got 70 percent,” Venita said proudly. “I still have a ways to go. I know it’s going to take a while. It doesn’t come that quick.”
Mike said the hearing aids they use come from three different companies. The company that made her hearing device is called MedEL, based in Inssbruck, Austria.
“It is very, very expensive. I am hoping and praying my insurance will pay for most of it.” Venita said. “My friend’s niece has a daughter that fell and lost her hearing at age five. She had cochlear implants in both ears. Their insurance didn’t pay anything and it cost them $1,000.”
When asked if she would have loved to have cochlear impants when she was 5, she said yes. Venita’s only regret is that she didn’t have the cochlear implants before her husband, Earl, died.