By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPC
Have several years gone by since I featured then 60-year-old Alex Gutierrez of Midpines, California? If you remember, Gutierrez had multiple disabilities, including one caused by polio at age 1 that permanently affected his walking, deafness due to the gradual, decades-long after effects of a brain tumor operation at age 24, and a work-related shoulder injury about 12 years ago.
To improve his hearing, a surgeon last decade installed a cochlear implant, which restored hearing in one ear.
This last April, Gutierrez, a musician who plays harmonica, guitar, and bass, was performing at a musical event honoring him and others for their musical contributions over decades to the Santa Paula, California, area.
In an email, Gutierrez, also a professional photographer, said, “After our band (Deuce) performed, I went to photograph the next band when my cochlear implant blew. I felt a pop and pain in my ear. It failed internally. So I've been almost completely deaf (again) since this concert.”
The implant failure completely took him by surprise. He began feeling isolated and paranoid, and became more self-conscious and introverted, he said. He had dizziness from disequilibrium, and often fell down due to balance issues. Everything in life became much more stressful and he ended up in the emergency room with chest pains, he said. He was about to give up.
Unlike many people who are deaf, Gutierrez had been able to hear nearly all his adult life, which had made a more problematic adjustment back to being deaf. His family helped him through the crisis.
Eventually, he said, “I threw myself into my photography, went on photo shoots in the Sierras, and edited, enlarged, and framed the pictures. My honey, Sandi, said she'd love me anyway, even though I can only hear 20 percent on my right side and nothing on my left.”
Gutierrez has a surgical re-implantation operation scheduled February 19, 2015. Even if doctors can't “fix” him, he says he will be content no matter what. In the Deaf community, a debate rages. among the people who have a choice, over the benefits of having a cochlear implant versus remaining deaf.
Gutierrez said about cochlear implants in general, “It's an individual choice involving the unique circumstances of each of us with hearing loss.” For Gutierrez, the decision boiled down to input he received from family and friends, and his love for playing the harmonica.
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