When Renee Livernoche lost her hearing at a young age, her world was turned upside down.
For years she dealt with hearing loss and the frustration of knowing that she couldn’t afford hearing aids. But when the 35-year-old Victoria native met a representative of Connect Hearing at an Eves of Destruction Roller Derby bout, her life was changed — and an upside-down world was opened up for her.
“I want to get the word out about hearing loss, especially to young people,” says Livernoche. “Because of my bad right ear, I used to turn up the volume on my headphones while listening to music. When I had my hearing tested, I found out that my left ear was damaged. I actually damaged it from having the volume too high. People need to know this! With better hearing, I can do a better job of making a difference.”
Livernoche spoke to us about her childhood, hearing aids, and the impact the gift of hearing is having on her life today.
How did you lose your hearing?
At the age of ten, I was attacked by a couple of large dogs when I was delivering newspapers. They wanted to play, but my small frame couldn’t handle their strong bodies as they came running towards me. I was standing on the sidewalk when they jumped up. I fell to the ground and hit my head on the curb. I was very lucky that my mother was with me and saw everything that happened. She promptly took me to the hospital where we discovered the damage done, a perforated ear drum and bruised jaw. I recovered, but from then on, I learned to live with being hard of hearing. At the time, the hearing loss felt negligible and it was left to be determined how my quality of life would be affected in the long term.
Hearing loss impacts different people in different ways. How did it affect your life?
I adapted to my hearing loss by reading lips. I would ask people to repeat themselves — often I would just fake it. I learned to avoid noisy situations. It changed my personality. I actually developed a kink in my neck from constantly turning my head to listen out of my good ear.
When did you discover Connect Hearing Canada?
Twenty-five years later, I went to Connect Hearing to get my hearing tested. Of course, my first appointment, back in February 2013, confirmed I had hearing loss. The clinic’s doctor offered that perhaps a specialist might be able to reverse the damage through surgery. So, off I went to get a referral for an ear, throat and nose specialist, which then led me to another ear specialist. At the end of this thread, I was told that the risks of corrective surgery outweighed the possible benefits and that I was better off getting hearing aids. This news cast a dark cloud over the possibility of getting my hearing back.
What was the driving force behind your decision to reach out to Connect Hearing to find a solution for your hearing loss?
Two years ago, I trained as a referee for roller derby. One of the players worked for Connect Hearing, Esther Beauregard. She recommended that if anyone in the league had hearing-loss issues they should be tested.
So you learned that you would need hearing aids for the first time. What went through your head?
I’d always heard hearing aids were in the thousands of dollars; which is something completely out of my price range and without knowing exactly what I was missing, I couldn’t attach value to it. I couldn’t indulge myself with improving my hearing — I figured I’d lived just fine with my hearing the way it was. I shrugged it off and carried on.
Fast forward a few months, I receive a phone call from Connect Hearing to check in and see what the specialist had to say. When I explained that all I could now do was get hearing aids, the doctor invited me in to have a trial run with the devices to see if that was something I would be interested in getting. I assured her that hearing aids were completely out of my price range, that I was even on employment insurance (EI) at this time, and that there was absolutely no way I could afford them. She informed me that the Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre (IDHHC) was an organization in town that helped finance adaptive services for those that need them, and considering that I was on EI, I would likely be considered for assistance. So, I booked an appointment with Connect Hearing for the fitting of my first hearing aids. I couldn’t say no.
You must have been thrilled!
I could have danced in their office when I got to my appointment. I was ecstatic that after all these years I could finally find out what I was missing. I was equally terrified though as I didn’t know what would happen after the two-week trial. Would they take them back after I’d realized I wanted them? How would I handle having greater access to hearing and then losing what I’d gained? I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind and I decided to just enjoy the experience I would have.
We’re so happy that it worked out so well for you!
After the two-week trial, I knew it — I can’t live without them! I thought I would have to give them back. My funding hadn’t come through yet. But the staff at Connect Hearing said I could keep them. I said, “Really, really! I don’t have to give them back. I can keep them.” I burst into tears.
The same day I got my hearing aids I had a scrimmage with the roller derby league, and amongst all the chaos and loud noises, I could hear my fellow refs as clear as day. I’d always struggled, bent over with my good ear in the lead, strategically placing myself beside the main speakers, hoping that my rudimentary lip reading could pick up what my ears did not, apologetically getting some to repeat what they’d said (time and again); and now, with my new devices, I could stand back, relaxed and know certainly that I could hear everything. I was beaming with my new hearing and telling everyone who I thought would care to know.
What sounds or activities do you enjoy now that you have hearing aids?
I didn’t realize what I was missing. I had adapted. Some people didn’t even know I had hearing loss. Others were very insensitive. I was embarrassed about my hearing loss. I discovered that “Music is rich! Music is beautiful!” I could hear all these tones and nuances I never heard before. I thought my car speakers were just “really bad.” But instead, it was my hearing. I wanted to go on a road trip and just listen to music.
I went to Beacon Hill Park and heard the ducks. It was amazing! Even when the TV is on, I can have a conversation with my parents. They love TV and it’s always on. Before I’d have to ask them to turn it off.
Not long ago, at a retirement party in a noisy restaurant I could actually chit-chat with people. I didn’t have to hide in the corner, or not come at all, like in the past. I was so pleased I could hear. I didn’t have to fake it. My world has opened up!
UPDATE: Renee Livernoche has been hired by the John Howard Society teaching the BladeRunners program. She says she gets to inspire confidence, purpose and teach employment skills to marginalized and multi-barriered youth aged 18-30. All of her skills and education are needed for this work, and being able to communicate with the participants stress-free is one of her biggest blessings.