Celebrating the Miracle of the Cochlear Implant

Recount of Cochlear Celebration 2007

San Antonio, Texas



by Aaron & Nechama Parnes



The crowd stood up on their feet, the roar of applause thundered through the grand ballroom. Everyone’s excitement was high as all eyes strained to catch a glimpse of the elderly man ascending the podium. The cheering refused to die down, continuing uninterrupted for a few long minutes. At last, the noise subsided, and everyone welcomed the person responsible for the development of the cochlear implant that is helping tens of thousands of people with hearing loss all across the world – Dr. Graeme Clark.


We were among those that were privileged to attend the Cochlear Celebration 2007 that was held this past February in San Antonio. It was an event to celebrate 25 years of miracles, and we were glad to be part of the event. We will try to capture some of the memories and feelings of the event to share with you.


Cochlear Corporation organized the 3 day convention, held in the luxurious Westin La Cantera resort on the outskirts of San Antonio. There were over 1,000 attendees at the event, and all were either Nucleus® cochlear implant users or family members. The conference was a wonderful opportunity for all cochlear implant users and their families to meet each other and share their experiences and tips with one another. That opportunity alone is what makes get-togethers like these so valuable for families of young children with cochlear implants. The kids get a chance to meet other children like them, which makes them feel special, and the parents meet with each other and share their valuable guidance and inspiration with one another. Additionally, the presentations at the conference were very informative and provided great input into maximizing the cochlear implant to its fullest potential.


Opening Presentations


The event opened with greetings from Chris Smith, president of Cochlear Americas, and Chris Roberts, president and CEO of Cochlear Corporation. The executives gave some opening remarks, and gave over the feeling that all the attendees are truly unified through the miracle of the cochlear implant.


We were then treated to a video presentation of the history behind the Nucleus cochlear implant. Dr. Graeme Clark, an Australian physician, believed that a “bionic ear”, as he called it, could be developed that would be able to produce hearing sensations for the brain that would be able to recognize distinct sounds. His hope was to produce an implant for the deaf that would enable them to be able to understand speech and other finely tuned sounds. The presentation showed how he managed to overcome extreme opposition to his work from his fellow faculty members at the university, and how he had to endure poverty and lack of funds throughout the many years of his research and testing. At the end he prevailed, and his work became the forerunner of the Nucleus cochlear implant, which was the first multi-channel processor to be made available for use.


Dr. Clark was then introduced to a thundering applause from the audience. The gratitude towards him that was felt by the attendees was immeasurable. This man’s work was directly responsible for changing the lives of tens of thousands of people across the world for the better. Only due to his unwavering devotion and intensity of his mission, even in the face of extreme adversity, are we able to reap the great life changing benefits that the cochlear implant offers.


After Dr. Clark finished his remarks, a short presentation was shown to introduce Rod Saunders, the first patient to receive Dr. Clark’s implant. Rod can only be described as a hero. The narrator outlined his great courage of agreeing to face the uncertain risks of the implant surgery, which were not yet known at the time. He also had to endure many hours of giving Dr. Clark feedback on the sounds he heard in order to program the device properly, which played a vital role in the ultimate success of the cochlear implant. In Rod’s remarks to the audience, he shared with everyone his feelings of frustration that he experienced during his years that he had no hearing, and how he longed to be able to hear sound once again. He relayed his strong feelings of indebtedness to Dr. Clark and his team for enabling him to be able to hear once again.  


Jim Patrick, the chief scientist of Cochlear Corporation, and one of the first to join Dr. Clark in his efforts, shared with the crowd his memories of the early days. It really was a different world then, as we viewed slides of the implant’s first appearances, such as the over-the-head coil, the pocketbook processor, and the other oddities that today we take for granted. The reality of the way things were for Dr. Clark and Jim, gave the audience a glimpse into what had gone on behind the scenes to enable the cochlear implant to be available. The audience was moved by their unwavering determination to reach the goal of producing a working “bionic ear”.