Sheiladawn Fitch was so excited about the opportunity to unite with other cochlear implant recipients, share her experiences and learn from others, the grandmother drove three days cross-country, from her home town in southern Texas to Cochlear’s ‘Celebration 2019’ in Tennessee, this past February.
Given her fear of flying, she set out on the 1,595 km (991 mi) road trip to join more than 1,200 fellow recipients and their families from across the US, Canada and Mexico to attend the event – considered the largest event ever held for recipients globally.
‘I love attending Celebration even though this was only my third,’ said Sheiladawn of her recent trip to the event in Nashville, Tennessee.
‘I fully believe that attending Celebration is kind of a healthy event that we recipients need. When you have hearing loss and find a way back through Cochlear, there’s a need to spend time with others who share the same experience,’ she said.
This year’s four-day event drew recipients with Cochlear™ Nucleus® Implants and Cochlear Baha® Systems who came together to celebrate the joys, challenges and personal triumphs of overcoming hearing loss, while learning how to improve their hearing performance from experts and peers.
For Sheiladawn, one of the main highlights was to connect with others who are living with hearing loss: ‘I meet so many people at Celebration. We share tips, tricks, solutions, support – so much bonding goes on. Celebration to me, is like attending a family reunion with your favourite relatives that you truly enjoy spending time with!’
Being able to reach out and help others in need of support was also very rewarding for Sheiladawn, who was implanted in 2003 after experiencing hearing loss as the result of a car accident: ‘I was approached by other attendees asking for help and information for their hearing loss. Talk about a “wow” moment that was for me.’
Held in the city of Nashville, considered by many to be the music capital of America, the event also provided an opportunity for recipients to connect with music – from educational sessions about music appreciation and special events hosted throughout the city.
Almost 50 teenage recipients joined a special music-writing workshop at The Tracking Room – a renowned recording studio where musical giants such as Aretha Franklin, Taylor Swift and Shania Twain have played and recorded chart-smashing songs.
Professional songwriters worked with the teens to explore their hearing loss journeys and emotions to create five songs – one of which featured in the closing ceremony of the four-day Celebration event.
‘Not a lot of people would get a chance to be in a world-class facility like this,’ said head music engineer and studio manager Matt Leigh. ‘I’m really excited for them.’
Event workshops featured speakers and recipients who talked on a range of topics; from understanding the impact of hearing loss on relationships and tips to connect with others, to raising confident and compassionate kids with valuable insights from parents.
Jackie Briggs, who also drove 1,377 km (856 mi) cross-country with her fiancé from New Jersey on the East Coast, was drawn by the line-up of speakers and the opportunity to meet others.
‘I was so excited about the prospects of meeting other implant users and when I started looking at the amazing sessions lined up, I knew I wanted to go, meet new people and learn as much as I could,’ said Jackie who was implanted just a few months ago.
‘Being a part of Celebration was amazing! It was the first time since receiving my processors that I hadn’t felt self-conscious about wearing them. I met so many people, all of whom had such amazing and unique stories, and I walked away having made amazing connections. I learned a lot, cried a lot, laughed a lot and I left with such a full heart.’
Cochlear CEO Dig Howitt also addressed event attendees and drew attention to the extent of undiagnosed hearing loss.
He said disabling hearing loss was one of the most prevalent medical conditions globally and affected 5% of the world’s population, yet it was one of the least treated and had a greater cost to society than diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
For more information about Cochlear Celebration in the US click here (in English only).
 World Health Organization. Deafness & Hearing Loss Factsheet. Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss [Last accessed Mar 2019]