Each time someone in the public eye comes forward about their hearing loss, stigma withers away. The latest celebrity to do so is Lou Ferrigno, best known for his depiction of The Incredible Hulk in the 1970s and 80s. He recently received a cochlear implant, and he wants everyone to know about it. I had the opportunity to speak with him about this life changing event. A gentle giant, Ferrigno wants to use his celebrity to show there is no shame in hearing loss and to inspire those who are candidates to consider a cochlear implant.
“The biggest change for me since my cochlear implant,” he says, “is that I have more confidence.” Because the cochlear implant helps him to better hear himself, his diction has improved. He also doesn’t need to work as hard to hear others. It has been such a positive change in his life, he is already considering implanting the other side next year.
Lying About His Hearing Loss to Save Face
During the height of his career, Ferrigno never disclosed his hearing loss for fear it would cost him acting jobs. Since he spoke differently, many believed he was from another country. He told people it was a speech impediment, but really it was the hearing loss. It is only recently that Ferrigno has become more open about his hearing problems.
I asked him why he has decided to be more public about his struggles now. “After age 65, one third of all adults have hearing loss,” he answered, “I want people to see what is possible in hopes that others will be more excited about considering a cochlear implant.” Ferrigno saw the tremendous impact a cochlear implant had for a friend of his who suffered sudden hearing loss. This inspired him to learn more. He hopes he can help others to do the same.
Correcting Misinformation about Cochlear Implants
Ferrigno also wants to help correct misinformation about cochlear implants. He was frustrated by the portrayal of cochlear implants in the movie Sound of Metal, and hopes his outreach will help set the record straight. Cochlear implant surgery is usually an outpatient experience, not the inpatient event shown in the movie. It is also extremely rare that someone would get more than one cochlear implant at a time. Plus, most of the time, the surgery is covered by insurance.
Ferrigno wants people to understand that the implant procedure itself is easy; it’s what comes next that takes work — building back your ability to understand sounds. But the payoff is incredible. Ferrigno says his word discrimination has improved from 18% to 65% in only 6 weeks. He expects additional improvements ahead.
Using His Celebrity to Give Others Hope
Growing up with hearing loss was tough, especially back in the time of body aids. Diagnosed at 4 years of age, Ferrigno’s speech never sounded like his peers, for which he was bullied. He became introverted and shy, held back by his hearing and speaking differences. As a teen, he turned to body building as a way to gain respect from his peers. Working hard on his body came naturally, because he had always worked so hard on his speech. He continues to work hard on it today as part of the aural rehabilitation that comes with his implant.
Ferrigno wants other people with hearing loss to know, “If I can do it, so can anyone else.” He hopes to inspire others to get their hearing assessed and if a candidate, to consider getting a cochlear implant.
Learn more about Lou Ferrigno’s story and how to assess your candidacy for a cochlear implant in this press release.
Readers, would you consider a cochlear implant if you were a candidate?