Republish this article
26th October 2017

Hearing the colours again

“Hearing with only one ear is like living in a black and white world without knowing that somewhere else colours exist,” explains Johanna Pätzold.

When the singer became deaf in her right ear as a result of meningitis at the age of 23, it deeply impacted her personal and professional life. “I quickly forgot what hearing with two ears was like. I couldn’t remember how a full sound sounded,” she explains to This Is Medtech.

“Simply finding my ringing cell phone was a nerve-racking experience,” recalls Johanna. “Losing the ability to localise sounds means you lose the ability for spatial orientation in a room. The connection to everything around you is severed even when ‘just’ a single side of hearing is lost.”

This disconnect caused the normally gregarious Johanna to withdraw from conversations when out with friends and become an unwilling silent bystander. The impact on her music was also devastating. “When listening to music with only one ear I couldn’t hear everything, I couldn’t perceive every detail, every subtlety and nuance,” she says. “Each attempt to listen to music during that period of time ended in frustration because those little things and subtleties are important to me. Also as singer, intonation is one of the most important skills, and I depend on it.”

Some 17 months after Johanna’s hearing loss, she got a cochlear implant (CI) ‒ a surgically implanted electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. It’s powered by a battery-operated processor located in the outer ear which captures sound, turns it into digital code and transmits this digitally coded sound through a coil to the implant located just under the skin.

The CI gave Johanna the ability to hear in stereo again. “It took me about two days to get used to the sound of my own voice again and a few months not to forget to put the processor on in the morning before leaving the house,” she says. It also took some time to remember to carry batteries with her all the time. “When the batteries suddenly go dead and the implant shuts off, it sounds as if everything around me has suddenly turned black and white. Fortunately I only need to change the batteries and turn the CI on to be able to hear the colours again.”

One thing that really surprises Johanna is her progress over the past eight years since she had the device implanted. “I didn’t expect that such improvements would be possible. I can say with certainty that I hear more with my CI today, most of all music! Initially, the CI completed the picture. It broadened the perspective. Today I can also hear the details that are so important to me as a musician. Over time my CI has become a more active participant in my hearing process.”

Johanna is one of three artists with an unbreakable spirit who will perform at Art of Life, an evening reception organised by MedTech Europe in partnership with EU40, to be held at the European Parliament on 22 November 2017.