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Beverly Biderman: Hearing again for the first time

By Staff | Mar 23, 2016

Beverly Biderman is the author of “Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing.” PHOTO PROVIDED

Losing the ability to hear is a very hard disability to overcome, especially when one has to lug the heavy weight on their shoulders of trying to hide it from other people.

Beverly Biderman of Toronto, Canada, and an annual winter resident on Sanibel, had the task of trying to live a normal life while being deaf, as well as keeping that knowledge from others.

Biderman started losing her hearing at an early age due to hereditary hearing loss, which starts out in childhood and progressively worsens over time.

But Biderman was able to overcome her deafness to lead a successful life and by the time she was 45-years-old, she was hearing for the first time as an adult with her cochlear implant.

Her journey through being deaf and now being able to understand speech again, is outlined in her book, “Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing,” which incidentally was an inspiration for a new opera being written entitled “TMIE, on the threshold of the outside world.”

Biderman unfortunately was passed down the hearing loss gene by her father, who was also deaf, while her other two siblings never were affected.

“You could tell I heard some things as a child, because I could speak,” Biderman said. “But everyone thought I had a speech problem, because I had difficulty reproducing sounds I couldn’t hear, like ‘S’, ‘Ch’ and ‘T’. There also wasn’t any treatment for hereditary hearing loss.”

When she was nine years old, her parents brought her to the doctor, where he diagnosed Biderman with nerve deafness.

They sent her downstairs to be fitted with a hearing aid, but ultimately, that didn’t to work.

“My parents had a tough time processing it,” Biderman said. “People in my family didn’t have children because they were scared they would pass on the hearing loss to their kids.”

Her mother told Biderman to not tell the teachers in school, so she sat up front of the class so she could read their lips during lessons.

“I got into trouble sometimes because I didn’t know the teacher was talking and I kept on talking,” Biderman said. “Once, they sent me into a speech therapy class and put on a record to give tips on how to correct your speech. I couldn’t hear it, so I just watched the record go round and round.

“I hope today, children don’t pick up the message that deafness is something to be ashamed of.”

Biderman became an avid reader, digesting any word on paper which she could find. She scored high grades in college and became a computer system analyst.

She was still guarded about her deafness throughout her life, until she started reading up on the process of cochlear implants. She had her first surgery when she was 45-years-old.

“I only told people I was deaf when I got my cochlear implant, I felt like I was coming out of the closet.” Biderman said.

A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device which replaces the function of the cochlea, which has over 30,000 fine hairs which turns sound waves in signals to the brain.

The implant enables the sound to be transferred to hearing nerves. A sound processor is fitted behind the ear, which captures sound and turns it into digital code.

That is transmitted through the coil, which is on the outside of the recipient’s head. The implant, which is surgically placed behind the ear, converts the digitally-coded sound into electrical impulses and “sends them along the electrode array placed in the cochlea (the inner ear),” according to www.cochlear.com.

“The implant’s electrodes stimulate the cochlea’s hearing nerve, which then sends the impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.”

“I do see (deafness) as a handicap, even now,” Biderman said. “But I am proud of what I have achieved.”

What Biderman hears are electronically sounding words. It was a task learning what words meant after she was “turned on” after her implant surgery.

“I listened to audio books for hours and hours, while reading along with it in a book,” Biderman said. “Eventually, through the process of matching with the word on the page, I could make the association.”

Early in the process, Biderman could only hear buzzes and beeps and also had to learn what other sounds were.

“I didn’t know what it was when a dog walked across the floor and its claws would scrape against the floor,” Biderman said. “I didn’t know plastic bags made a crinkling sound, either. It was confusing.”

Biderman penned her life into her book “Wired for Sound: A Journey into Hearing”, which led to the birth of an opera based on her memoir.

The premier of the opera was supposed to have been Feb. 25, in Lisbon, Portugal at O’culto da Ajuda, with the soprano singing the role of Biderman being Marina Pacheco.

Ironically, Pacheco came down with the flu and eventually an inner-ear infection, thus postponing the premier to a later date.

Biderman’s book can be purchased online at www.amazon.com/dp/B01B5H1VR2.

“The implant has given me independence, I feel more secure,” Biderman said. “I feel more competent and less needy.”

The doors opened by her cochlear implant are many, as her book indicates. It’s been a gift many take for granted, but one Biderman appreciates with every word heard.