Juan Guerrero is 26 years old and suffers from profound bilateral hearing loss. When he was five years old, his parents decided to undergo a cochlear implant operation in his left ear.
According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019, around 466 million people around the world suffer from hearing loss. Likewise, it is estimated that by 2050 more than 900 million people will suffer from this pathology.
Currently, one of the solutions that exist for severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss is the cochlear implant. It is the first substitute for a sensory organ: the ear.
Thanks to this system, many people with hearing loss can understand speech in different types of listening environments, enjoy music, and distinguish a wide variety of sounds, such as those in nature.
What is the cochlear implant?
The cochlear implant It consists of two parts: an external audio processor, which is located behind the ear, and an internal implant, which is placed under the skin, through a simple and short-term surgery. Both parts are joined by a magnet.
The external audio processor has the function of capturing and processing the sounds to transmit them to the implant, which sends the sound information to the electrodes that are inside the cochlea. These directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
Despite having experienced situations of discrimination in high school, one of them coming from her music teacher, At the age of 12, Juan began to play the drums, overcoming in different ways the difficulties that arose as a result of his hearing problem, such as, for example, recognizing choruses and musical tenses.
In addition to his passion for music, he also studied theater under Javier Sainz and Eduardo Ruderman and even appeared in a TV casting.
Now, the artist works as a drummer in the band “Excuse the apologies”, with which he made several presentations before the pandemic and continued to rehearse through Zoom during isolation. Also, he is about to graduate as a Mobile Applications Development Technician at the National University of La Matanza.
His dream is to develop applications that can help other people who have some type of disability. Globe Live Media spoke with him about the Cochlear Implant Day, which is commemorated on February 25, to learn more about his history:
– Do you remember how the therapy or treatment was after the intervention when you were five years old?
—When I implanted my left ear for the first and only time, I was not listening 100%, I was listening with interference. You could say that I was learning to listen little by little, with the help of my speech therapist, with whom I did hearing rehabilitation.
Also, if you listen suddenly, you can also lose your balance or become overwhelmed, so it always has to be gradual.
—What was your life like before and how did you feel when you had the implant?
—Before implanting, I was very young and used hearing aids. With the headphones I could hear something, but I wasn’t hearing well. I remember that the speech therapist came to my house and gesticulated a lot and made gestures to me.
It was there that I learned to read lips. After I was implanted, there was a big difference. With the implant I was able to begin to participate in conversations and distinguish the sounds of the environment. But learning to listen was quite a process.
“With the implant I was able to begin to participate in conversations and distinguish the sounds of the environment. But learning to listen was a whole process,” the young man told Globe Live Media.
—How did you start playing drums at 12?
—I always wanted to play the drums. Before learning to play this instrument, he would hit the school bench with his hands and move his feet, pretending to play the drums.
Later, I insisted that my parents take me to private classes and they took me with my first teacher, Santiago. He was very patient with me and he was also very demanding with the times, that is, the metronome. Since I didn’t have a battery in my house, I just bought the chopsticks.
It wasn’t difficult for me to learn to play the drums, but the coordination between cymbal and kick drum was difficult. But, after a lot of practice and patience, I made it.
When I started drumming with my band, it was even more difficult for me, because it wasn’t just the drum beat anymore, I had to pay attention to the beats of all the instruments, which requires a lot more coordination.
– Have you always had a passion for the universe of music and art?
—I always really liked listening to heavy rock and all the bands that had drums. When I was 10 years old, I went to the birthday of my uncle, who is a musician and had a drum set at his house.
That day he started playing the drums and my cousin the guitar. From that moment on I was fascinated and wanted to learn to play the drums.
As well I was interested in drums the candombe. When I was little, with my parents we vacationed often in Piriápolis, Uruguay, and one of their traditions is the candombe. I loved watching the troupe go by and, above all, seeing when the drums were playing.
I had a very beautiful childhood. My mother also liked music a lot, she played Luis Miguel or Chayanne and made us dance. Later, at 12 years old, on Children’s Day, they gave me my first drum set.
– Do you feel that music helped you to overcome the difficulties that were presented to you? In particular in the strictest isolation stage during the pandemic?
—Music helped me a lot during the pandemic. At first, the isolation made me anxious, because I really wanted to go out and couldn’t. In addition to all the protocols that we were not used to. So, to clear my mind a bit, I started to play the drums a lot: I played all the songs, of any genre.
In particular, I exercised difficult subjects that represented challenges and a lot of practice time. I also started rehearsing for Zoom with my band, “Excuse the apologies”.
—What does music mean to you and what kind of challenges did you find when learning the technique of playing drums with hearing loss?
—Music means everything to me and, without the cochlear implant, I would never have been able to learn to play the drums, nor would I have been able to go to college. In my case, as I am implanted with only one ear, I got used to hearing only one.
When I was a teenager, some friends invited me to be part of their band. It was the first time I went to a rehearsal room. At first it was a disaster, it was very noisy and did not coordinate the times well. The main problem was with the choruses: we could distinguish them.
One day, after several unsuccessful attempts, it occurred to me to tell my friends to make a gesture, wave or step on me before each chorus and, in that way, I was able to solve it. That day the song came out perfect and I was very happy to have found a better way to play.
“Music helped me a lot during the pandemic,” stressed the drummer.
Then my uncle joined the band. He helped me a lot, because he is very perfectionist with sounds. The first time we played at a big festival it was a very nice experience, I felt a lot of adrenaline.
I remember that my friends encouraged me a lot that day, they told me “give him what you can, you’re going to play well”, and it was my uncle who got close to me to make gestures to me in the choruses. Everything flowed in a very harmonious way.
At another festival I remember that I got lost and couldn’t remember the lyrics of the song. That day it occurred to me to read the audience’s lips and, in that way, I could continue playing.
—What would you say to a child who has a type of hearing loss like the one you experience?
—My advice to boys and girls who have hearing loss is to go ahead with whatever they set out to do and never lower their arms: it’s the only way to be happy. I also recommend that you do not give up and look for solutions to be able to listen, such as the cochlear implant.
Speech therapy is essential to improve language and hearing and, personally, I also recommend doing acting and improvisation workshops, which help to remove fear and shame.
“Music means everything to me and without the cochlear implant I would never have been able to learn to play the drums nor would I have been able to go to college,” Juan told us.
—What helped you to overcome obstacles and / or discrimination?
—Until the second year of high school, I had a really hard time at school. My colleagues charged me because of the way I spoke, because of my timbre of voice and because I repeated the words a lot. I also had teachers who made me feel very bad.
In particular, a music teacher that I had for two years. She took us listening theory and practice. I remember that he played music on a small team and made us distinguish the different instruments. But, I “glued” my ear to the stereo and, even so, I had a hard time doing this exercise.
Although in theory I was doing well, in this exercise I was graded 0 and 1, regardless of my hearing problem.
One of the people who helped me overcome obstacles and discrimination was a classmate from school, who helped me a lot with playing the flute and with music classes. His dad, who was a musician, also helped me. I used to meet him every Saturday to practice and learn to discriminate sounds and melodies.
Also, my dad, my uncle, my friends in the band and cochlear implant technology helped me a lot.
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