Elisaul’s Hearing Journey
A true Hearing “Hear-O” at only 18 years of age, Elisaul Then Lugo is already a remarkable young man. He is a loving son and brother, an extremely hard worker, a high school honor roll student, and without his cochlear implant, he is deaf.
When Elisaul was born, he was completely deaf in his right ear and had very little hearing in his left ear. He went undiagnosed until the age of 3 when his family took him to a hospital in the DR and was fitted with two hearing aids. The upkeep of technology and programming can be very challenging in certain countries, so Elisaul spent most of his early years struggling to hear even the loudest of sounds. He didn’t let it keep him from trying to participate in his community and understand conversation. In fact, his dedication and perseverance helped him become an extraordinary lip reader.
At the age of 15, Elisaul’s family decided to move to New York City from the Dominican Republic for many reasons: more opportunities, stronger education system, extended family, but none more important than access to better hearing healthcare. Prior to arriving in the US, Elisaul and his family knew nothing about cochlear implants, how they worked, or where to get one. When an unfortunate incident of getting something stuck in his ear landed him in the ER at New York Presbyterian, the attending physician noticed the severity of his untreated hearing loss and referred him to the Cochlear Implant Center at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). After an initial evaluation, the CI team witnessed his eagerness to hear and speak, so Elisaul was fast tracked for a cochlear implant.
Since receiving his cochlear implant at age 15, Elisaul has been dedicated to improving his verbal communication skills by attending each and every one of his weekly speech sessions at CUMC with his therapist, Stacey Bernstein. Stacey said, “Elisaul is extremely hardworking and dedicated to improving his auditory skills. During every appointment after school, he comes prepared with the activities he completed at home and updates on his listening abilities. He has a great sense of humor and his cheerful personality has come out more with his increased confidence in communicating.”
What an incredible journey…. as a young boy he taught himself to be a dynamic lip reader, awaiting an opportunity for a cochlear implant, he taught himself sign language, and after being implanted for only a short two years, he speaks fluent Spanish and is expanding his English language every day. Elisaul admits, “Learning to hear with the cochlear implant was tough at first,” as he reflects on his experience hearing for the first time. He remembers everything being so incredibly loud outside when people were talking around him. He preferred to be indoors with his family because there was much less sound to process. Now, thanking his dedicated CI team at CUMC he has adapted to environmental sounds. He and his family are thrilled with their decision to get a cochlear implant and truly believe his life has improved immensely because of it.
His younger sister Gerly, says she is so proud of her brother and thanks God and his hearing team for his ability to hear and speak. Before his implant she spent a lot of time helping her big brother by translating for him around the house, getting his attention when others needed him, and making sure that he didn’t get into trouble. Since receiving his implant, she says with a big smile, “The roles have definitely changed. Now he is looking out for me and is constantly making sure I have my homework done.”
Through emotional tears of joy, his mother proudly admits, “Now that he has a CI, he is so attentive… always helping around the house and helping out with his family. I am so grateful my son has a chance to communicate with anyone in the world. It’s unbelievable!”
Outside of school, where Elisaul is an honor roll student and recently passed his Regent’s, he works at the New York Botanical Gardens where he loves being able to use his language skills with anyone who visits. In the future, Elisaul wants to take his communication skills to new heights by becoming a flight attendant. Having gone to the airport when he was a little boy to watch planes with his father, he has always wanted to fly.
A young man, humbled by his new life, Elisaul is proud of his cochlear implant and all the opportunities it have given him. He explains how he could always communicate with people through sign language or lip reading. Now, pausing to keep his composure, he said, “I can speak words and that would never be possible without my implant.”
All his hard work and accomplishments did not go unrecognized by his cochlear implant team at CUMC which is why they nominated him for this award. Earlier this year, The Children’s Hearing Institute presented Elisaul with the Hearing “Hear-O” Award in recognition of his outstanding ability to overcome the challenges of hearing loss and his tireless dedication in developing communication skills through speech and language.
We thank Elisaul and his family for sharing their hearing journey with CHI and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.
**If you would like to nominate a student, sibling, or professional for the Hearing Hear-O Award, please download our Flyer or contact Melissa at Mwillis@childrenshearing.org.