It's hear at last - and no more phone hang-ups

Last updated 10:55 29/08/2010

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A cochlear implant has transformed Lance Cairns' life. Sarah Harvey speaks to the legend about the changes.

After decades of locking himself away from social situations, 60-year-old cricketing legend Lance Cairns did something last week he had been wanting to do all his life. He spoke to son Chris on the phone.

Cairns has had hearing problems throughout his adult life and would often say no to social invitations. He had also developed an uncanny fear of the phone.

But he finally realised it was not only his life that his hearing difficulties were impacting.

"You have no life whatsoever because you are just hiding from people all the time. You not only lock yourself away, you lock your family away as well."

Cairns is best known for his swashbuckling and uncoachable batting and bowling styles as a representative for New Zealand from 1974 to 1985.

But since the age of 17 he has had hearing issues and, by the time he did something about it, his hearing was so bad that he was lip reading to be able to partake in conversations.

He blames the hearing loss on working for 13 years, from the age of 15, at a freezing works and spending much of that time standing next to an air pressured hose which made a "shhh" noise all day.

Cairns, however, said his hearing didn't cause him too many problems with his cricket. "I don't sort of relate the problems with my hearing as far as my cricket went. At team meetings I wasn't picking up what was being said but [team-mate] Jeremy Coney took care of that . . . he would take me aside afterwards and explain what had been said at the meeting."

And there were times though when Cairns would scream for an LBW when all his team-mates had clearly heard the ball hit the bat first.

"I would scream for these appeals and all my team-mates would be silent as anything. Then it would work the other way, I would get a nick and the wicketkeeper would catch it and they would all scream the appeal and I wouldn't appeal because I hadn't heard the nick."

In the last 20 years though his hearing had deteriorated badly. "You learn to shut off so completely. You hide yourself and you know how to escape and to get away from having to make conversation."

About 15 years ago he decided to get a hearing aid, but found they just gave him more noise as opposed to clarity.

It was not until about five years ago that he heard about cochlear implants and in December last year Christchurch surgeon Phil Bird completed the surgery.

"I spoke to my son Christopher about two days ago and had a conversation with him for about 20 to 25 minutes, and that would probably be the first time ever that I have spoken on the phone to him."

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The changes, he said, were just starting to take effect now. "To get back and involved in society . . . it's still an ongoing thing. I still have to get the confidence to get out there, be amongst people in the public.

"About a month ago I was in Christchurch and I met an old team-mate, Stephen Boock. He suggested we meet in a pub. It was on a Friday at 5 o'clock. And when we arrived he said 'this isn't good'. The bar was chocka and it was bloody noisy. But I said 'no, hang on, let's just see what happens'. And so we were there for just over an hour and I never missed a beat, I picked up everything. That was great."

* Friday, September 17, is Loud Shirt Day, the annual appeal of The Hearing House and the Southern Cochlear Implant Paediatric Programme, two independent charities dedicated to enabling deaf children with cochlear implant or hearing aids to listen and speak like their hearing peers.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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