“We feel like he is aging backwards … everyday he experiences something brand new and exciting to him,” says Jonathan Vestal, son of our newest Patient Hero, Mr. Dan Vestal. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary year, we continue to highlight amazing Hearts for Hearing patient stories – and Mr. Vestal’s story is one that truly is incredibly special.
At 61 years of age, Mr. Vestal received his first cochlear implant and a couple of months later, his second implant. Until his activation, he says ‘he was a great lip reader’ who was born unable to hear. Amazingly, Mr. Vestal taught himself to talk when he was young by gently placing his hands next to his mother’s face and throat as she spoke to him. He mirrored and mimicked her movements and was able to make sounds. Eventually, he taught himself to talk. Still, he could not hear. Mr. Vestal learned American Sign Language too, and he grew up with family members who were deaf or hard of hearing.
Mr. Vestal’s wife, who is also deaf, is not a candidate for cochlear implants. Together, they raised two children with typical hearing, often referred to as Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs). Mr. and Mrs. Vestal are proud grandparents to eight remarkable grandchildren, and they enjoy their close family. Today, Mr. Vestal is a retired pipeline welder – he always liked working with his hands – and he considers himself a career oil and gas man.
Some stories he recalls are not always happy ones. Mr. Vestal tells of working as a welder and not being able to hear the horn when it sounded at the end of a shift. His coworkers would often forget he could not hear. Rather than returning to tap him on the shoulder, they would toss tools; nuts, bolts – even hammers – to get his attention. He has permanent marks on his body from those incidents.
Mr. Vestal does not dwell on such hurtful memories. He is much happier and more animated as he talks about life after his cochlear implants – and his future – and he wants every deaf or hard or hearing person who is a potential candidate to see their doctor and start the process for themselves. He agreed to let us share his story in hopes of encouraging other people who might benefit from a cochlear implant to consider the option.
“I hear birds every morning! I never heard birds before,” he tells us. Without taking a breath, Mr. Vestal adds, “I hear my grandkids – all of them, I really like hearing them” … “I can talk on the phone, and I do not have to FaceTime to read lips” … “I can hear what my preacher is saying”… “I love listening to the church choir” … “I love all types of music” … “I used Spotify for the first time recently” … “We are putting together a playlist, I never knew what that was before” …“I can use the drive-through lane at a fast-food restaurant now” … “I do not have to read captions at movies anymore” … “My family took me to see Top Gun Maverick – it is the first movie I ever heard, and I loved it – it is the best!”
Speaking of favorites, he admits to really liking classic rock, and he is especially fond of the drums. He likes newer music too and is a fan of the Jonas Brothers. He likes country music and church music – “all of it, voices and instruments.” This is one of the reasons his son tells us his dad is living backwards. Jonathan says he receives calls – and even seeing his dad’s name on Caller ID is something to which Jonathan is adjusting and enjoying – and his dad will ask him, “Have you heard ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey? It sure is a great song.”
Mr. Vestal is dedicating himself to experiencing as many everyday sounds as humanly possible – sounds of nature, sounds of music, sounds of people – sounds many of us often tune out or take for granted. He loves hearing the words Papa Dan from his grandchildren. He loves spending time with them and is more comfortable watching them without any help now that he can hear them. He was always worried before that he would not hear them if there was an emergency – or they needed his help.
Mr. Vestal is also experiencing routine, unexpected little happenings too. We specifically enjoyed one story that Jonathan shared with us, “Dad hears everything, everything – even the stuff we tune out.” He mentioned that his dad called him after driving home from his implant activation, and he told his son his truck may need some repair work; then went on to explain that every time he used his signal, there was a strange clicking sound.
It is difficult to include in a single feature all the ways Mr. Vestal is enjoying his newfound sound. However, his eyes light up, he smiles, he is animated, and he is grateful. He could not say enough thanks that he was referred to Dr. Mark Wood, and he beams as he talks about the work of Dr. Wood and the entire Hearts for Hearing team. He is enjoying his new role as a helper to people and is happy when he can help translate for his wife and other friends who are unable to hear. He is more focused now on taking care of others around him AND himself. He even joined a gym to help him stay healthy and active.
“Go for it! Otherwise, you will never know what you are missing. I admit I was scared in the beginning, but you should talk to an audiologist who specializes in cochlear implantation to see if you are a candidate too. Get a referral to Hearts for Hearing. I know there can be many barriers, including cost, but it is worth trying. These are people who want to help you.”