Hearing transplant prompts Rendon's Sarah Churman to write book of hope

Posted Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Sarah Churman knew that getting a hearing implant would change her life, but she could not have imagined how much.

Born without the hairs in her middle ear and severe hearing loss, Churman became an internet sensation after an emotional video showing the first moments of her hearing went viral.

The North Texas mother was suddenly in demand, appearing on Ellen and the Today show and being interviewed by radio and newspapers across the country.

Now, Churman, a former Mansfield resident who now lives in Rendon, tells her side of the story in a new book, Powered On (Indigo River Press; $14.95), which describes what it has been like to adjust to a world with sound and to deliver a message.

"The premise is the beauty of hope," Churman said at a recent event in Mansfield. "It's not just for the hearing impaired. It's always finding the good in everything, always being positive and it's about me getting the implants and all the people who wrote me."

Churman got an Envoy implant in her left ear in the fall of 2011, then had another activated in her right ear in March.

"I didn't think the second would be that big of a deal," she said. "When they turned it on, I didn't realize how complete I would feel."

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Churman, 30, was born with a 75 to 90 decibel hearing loss, which is considered severe to profound, she said. She learned about the implants in May 2011, but after finding out that the cost was $30,000 per ear, had little hope that she would be able to afford them.

She and her husband, Sloan, live with their two children, Olivia, 5, and Elise, almost 3, in a restored farmhouse on 32 acres in Rendon, near his mother, Lari Leigh.

Leigh cashed in one of her retirement accounts to pay for the surgery, but it only covered the operation on one ear. The day Sarah Churman got that first implant activated, Leigh stayed home to care for the couple's children.

Her husband Sloan videotaped the moment when a weeping Sarah began to make out clear sounds. The YouTube video soon had 15 million hits, and Envoy agreed to reimburse Lari Leigh's savings and pay for Sarah's right ear transplant.

Sarah said she has noticed a lot of differences in her life, as have the people around her.

"I have become a lot more comfortable in my skin," she said. "I cut my hair off. I worked for 30 years to cover my ears. I'm not worrying so much about what people are thinking; it's a lot less stressful. Nothing has really changed, except we get crazy phone calls (to appear on television or write a book) once in awhile."

Her family did notice some differences at first, she said.

In the beginning, Sloan says "it was hard to get over it," she said. "He was used to being my translator. We had a way of life perfected. He would nudge me to let me know I was butting in or he would squeeze my leg to let me know 'I'll tell you later.'"

Olivia, her oldest daughter, also had some adjustments to make, she said.

"She lived with a mom who needed a little extra help," Sarah said. "She had to get mom's attention. She couldn't yell from the other room. For the first few months she told everyone that mom had a new ear."

The best parts are hearing birds, leaves rustling, kids playing and live music, especially by her friend, Josh Weathers, a local musician.

"Live music sounds so much better than the radio," she said.

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Stephanie Sides, who went to school with Sarah from the second grade through graduation from Mansfield High School in 2001, said she really hasn't changed.

At Tarver-Rendon Elementary, "I was the new kid and nobody played with me," Sides recalled. "She walked up and said, 'Hey, you want to play with me? I'm deaf.'

"We've been friends ever since."

Sides, now an assistant manager at Texas Trust Credit Union, said she knows having a hearing loss was hard, but Sarah never complained about the bullying.

"Riding on the bus, kids would make fun of her," Sides said. "Out of all of it, she would never show her feelings were hurt. She never looked at it as a disability. Growing up you would never have known she was different. She is just Sarah."

But Indigo River Publishing liked her story.

"They said 'We think your story is inspiring,'" she said. "It's just weird to think about writing a book."

Currently, the book is available at Indigo River Publishing's website, indigoriverpublishing.com, Amazon.com, and from Churman for $14.95, but it will be available at other sites soon, she said.

Amanda Rogers, (817) 473-4451

@AmandaRogersNM

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