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Lou Ferrigno

One of the more frequent questions that candidates for cochlear implants have been about rehabilitation.

Once a candidate receives the implant and is activated by their audiologist, the initial sounds might be robotic or sound like Mickey Mouse. Commitment to doing rehabilitation exercises is key to getting the best results. Your brain needs to learn to hear again and the more one does the rehabilitation programs,  sounds will normalize better and faster.

Just over a year ago, I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with Lou Ferrigno about his new cochlear implant and his experiences that let up to his decision to get one.

Recently I heard him participate in a video presentation and I was amazed at the improvement in his diction. In June 2022, I met him at the Hearing Loss Association of America convention in Tampa and again impressed with the improvement.

He graciously agreed to do a follow-up interview with me. The results are best demonstrated by listening to parts one and two for comparison.

He also talks about his decision to seek out his options to move forward to get a cochlear implant for his second side.

Thank you Lou Ferrigno for your insights and congratulations on the improvements. 

Rehabilitation never ends.  Lou’s story is a reminder this hearing journey is not a race but requires dedication to getting the best hearing you can achieve.


Voiceover (00:04):
Cochlear implant. Basics is a site for candidates and their families and friends. If you have been told you qualify for a cochlear implant, these podcast interviews tell how receiving a cochlear implant can be a life-changing experience. You will meet recipients who face a hearing loss, and that hearing aids could no longer provide comprehension of speech or music. They face growing isolation, inability to socialize, or compete in the world of business. The joy of music disappeared. They explain how receiving a cochlear implant changed their lives.

Richard (00:42):
Welcome to cochlear implant basics. A reminder: cochlear implant basics is not sponsored by anyone nor is it offering medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider.
Okay, good morning. Today, we’re talking part two interview with Lou Ferrigno, so if you would just start by stating your name, the date, and where you are.

Lou Ferrigno (01:04):
Yeah. My name is Lou Ferrigno and today is July 13th. I’m living now in the central coast in California.

Richard (01:10):
I appreciate your time. I wanted to do this interview because it was one year ago. We did part one and you had just received your cochlear implant and you were activated and your voice was still a little foggy at that time. Recently, I heard you do a video presentation, and then I went to Tampa for the HLAA convention for the question and answers, and your voice has improved so much. I really wanted to concentrate this time on talking about rehabilitation because you are a champion. I have to tell you over the past year, I’ve referred more people to your interview than anybody else.

Lou Ferrigno (01:55):
Oh, thank you.

Richard (01:55):
You’ve inspired dozens of people to move forward, so I really appreciate your time. Let’s talk a little bit about where you are today versus a year ago, in terms of how you feel about what you’re doing.

Lou Ferrigno (02:13):
Well, [inaudible 00:02:14] today, [inaudible 00:02:13] the speech, it’s much more improved, especially doing all the rehab exercises. It takes five to six months for the cochlear to adapt to almost 100%, and that’s why, especially when it comes to the acting and filming and different things, different sounds, everything, I hear everything much more clearer, and especially I hear my own voice clearer, meaning that, for example, before you could detect a speech impediment in my voice, but now I think it’s very minimal.
But the big change is the fact that I’m getting used to the cochlear, and as a matter of fact, tomorrow, I’m seeing Jordan at House Hearing Clinic. We’re talking about getting the second one, to do a hearing test on my right ear, because I’m 70 now, there’s a chance I may be losing more of my right hearing. I’m curious to find out tomorrow. But it’s been a wonderful life-changing experience, especially now that I’m able to monitor my own voice without thinking about it, without struggling like I used to. That’s the big difference.

Richard (03:08):
I understand that. I struggled for 35 years, totally deaf. I had to regulate the volume of my voice by watching the facial cues of the person I was talking to. You no longer have to do that. What did you do exactly? Can you talk a little bit about rehabilitation, how you got your voice to improve?

Lou Ferrigno (03:27):
Well, besides the Angel Sounds it had what you call Co-Pilot, for example, that I’ve learned listening to TED, learning to listen to different conversations, because they give you three questions and you listen to a conversation … I think five minutes … and then the different questions, you have to answer each question. For example, they give you direction, or, for example, if you order food, if the conversation is between two or three people, and then later on, you have to answer these questions, that was part of the rehab.
Also, the beginning was tough because I had to learn to differentiate different words, to pick out the right, correct word out of four words. So, for me, it was like 50-60%. It got to a point that was no more than 100%, but now the conversation’s much easier because you work up for a single word up to different consonants different sounds at the beginning and the end, that eventually goes to conversation, which is fantastic because when you listen to the conversation, it sounds so different compared to a hearing aid.

Richard (04:22):
It’s an interesting point because people who are considering a cochlear implant, whether it’s a single or bilateral, are often afraid of the amount of rehabilitation. But my question is, did you ever get discouraged while you were doing it?

Lou Ferrigno (04:38):
I would say the very beginning when I first used a different app, I was kind of nervous because my brain was not adapting as quick. It’s just like when you to go to school, when you study it gets easier and easier, but you’ve got to have the right attitude, the positive attitude. But it’s a rewarding experience. It’s not like you have to do it; it’s something that if you do it, it only improves your hearing and it’s enjoyment involvement. When you hear better and better, it makes you much more excited. It’s not like going to a gym, for example, so you want to train for one year for competition. This is completely different because you’re building different steps, you reach to level you want to get to, and for me, it’s fun, exciting. Also, you’ve got to have a positive attitude and the determination to want to do it.

Richard (05:21):
What about dealing in social situations? Is that much easier for you now or are you still having confusion with sound?

Lou Ferrigno (05:29):
It’s much easier. But the thing is, I do tell people I have a cochlear implant and then it takes the pressure off you because if you’re having a conversation with people, for example, for years, I never wanted to tell people I had hearing loss or wore hearing aids because I was afraid of the rejection.
But now it’s a conversational piece. When I talk about cochlear implants, they’re excited to hear about it, but the most important thing is you’re taking pressure off yourselves. That’s the most powerful thing, because once you have pressure on yourself, then you could be detrimental to yourselves.

Richard (05:58):
I understand exactly what you’re talking about because so many people want to hide that hearing loss because we just started a new Facebook site called Hearing Loss: The Emotional Side, and we’ve got well over a thousand people within five weeks. People are discussing this kind of thing: “I’m afraid of exposing my hearing loss”, “I’m afraid to do this or that,” and they’re pouring their emotions out on the page. Do you have an emotional change since you received cochlear implants that you can describe?

Lou Ferrigno (06:32):
Well, especially at home now, especially when I talk to my family, I can listen to them when I’m walking away behind my back, whereas I had to constantly lean forward and to constantly use more effort to listen to conversation, especially when hearing the children, home, the kids screaming and the wife and everything. It’s much easier because it’s almost like, for example, we live in my childhood and I’m able to hear the thing that I wish I heard when I was a child.

Richard (06:59):
That’s absolutely fabulous. Now, I noticed at the question and answer at Tampa you did, you were using your phone on your right side. Is that your hearing aid side?

Lou Ferrigno (07:09):
I go back and forth because I can use both the hearing aid and the cochlear on the phone. The reason why I use it on the phone is because sometimes if they call me, it’s easier to listen to the phone if I go to the cochlear. Then I have to click the mute button. But my goal to get the second implant eventually and I could have two which makes it much easier. I hear much easier with the cochlear compared to the hearing aid. Big difference.

Richard (07:33):
So there is a huge difference. Well, I have-

Lou Ferrigno (07:39):
I mostly use the cochlear, but then sometimes I switch because depending on if I want to listen to something on the computer or a specific thing, I switch it around.

Richard (07:46):
Okay. Now you’re considering going to bilateral. I’d like to talk about that a little bit: your hesitations, what’s changed over the past year, and why you’re looking into it.

Lou Ferrigno (07:59):
Well, the thing is that when you have a cochlear implant and you have a hearing aid at the same time, it’s not a very good marriage because sometimes they take away from the cochlear. Then when you want to go with the cochlear and then you say to yourself, “Wow. I hear so much better than hear …” If I had it my way, I wish I could just have the cochlear, take the hearing aid out, and I could manage. I could get around about the same but I’d rather maximize what I have right now.
I talked to some people after I seen you the next day at the airport, and I met a woman that eventually she went bilateral, and she said before she had the same situation, like you and I, and she told me when she got the second one, she was able to hear In other words, it gave more depth to 360 degrees instead of just one ear. I’m sure you’re familiar with that.

Richard (08:44):
Well, when you did rehabilitation, did you take the hearing aid out while you were listening all day? Or did you do it for a few hours a day? Do you remember?

Lou Ferrigno (08:52):
In the beginning, I would say maybe half a day because they told me only do only a couple hours and take a break, different break, but it got to a point that I would continue to do the rehabilitation. It wasn’t that tiresome because at the beginning your brain gets tired after lifting so much; you need to give yourself a break. Now, it’s not a problem for me anymore. But sometime I take the hearing aid out, and I just listen with the cochlear.

Richard (09:15):
That’s good because actually this morning, I was referred to a woman who was about to get the first one, she has a hearing aid on the other side, and she was asking me about rehabilitation. I’m sure she’s going to want to listen to this or read this interview. Do you have anything else you’d like to add to the people? I know you’ve done a tremendous job. You’ve been so unbelievably inspiring. How does it feel to know that people move forward because of your intervention?

Lou Ferrigno (09:41):
I feel great because these people are just saying that I wish I had done it 10 years sooner because in fact why suffer? Because I’m not 21; I’m not 19 years old. But the most important thing is that it makes up what you didn’t have before. It’s almost like people go back to school. They never got an education. They go back to school, get an education. You’re able to go back. That’s why a lot of people, sometimes they have one cochlear … I have a friend of mine who has a cochlear. He doesn’t want to get the second one; he’s happy with one. Some people are happy with one, but my situation I want to maximize, I want to have a 100%.

Richard (10:14):
Congratulations. I think it’s going to be fabulous. Once you have stereo hearing, you’re going to wonder why you waited a year. Now, most people do wait six months to one year, so you’re right within that framework. I had them both done at the same time, so I can’t tell about my experience that way. That was easier because I could rehabilitate two ears at the same time.

Lou Ferrigno (10:36):
Yeah. How was your speech before you had the bilateral.

Richard (10:39):
Well, people thought I was Russian because of my accent. But I’ll tell you what was very interesting is that I moved here seven years ago and I left a lot of my friends in New York. After I got my cochlear implant, I would be talking to them on the phone and they would say, “Richard, your voice sounds so much better.” It does, in my experience, it makes a big difference. And as I’ve said, listening to you a year ago and people are going to be reading or listening to both these interviews to make a comparison, and you are light years ahead of where you were a year ago. Okay?

Lou Ferrigno (11:18):
That’s why tomorrow I’ll go to the ear clinic to do the testing for the second one because after one year you have to go for the testing. They basically said, “You’re definitely a candidate for the second one.” So I’d be curious to find out, because my right ear, I am losing my natural hearing. That’s why tomorrow I want to see, because I want to get to a point that was explained that when come to your natural hearing, when you get older, sometimes you could have a drop. One morning, you could wake up, you could lose like 15-20%. It can happen. I want to be ahead of the game.

Richard (11:47):
It’s true, because losing any degree of natural hearing is so frightening to people. I tell the story of a woman I mentored in Mississippi, 3% in one ear, zero in the other, and the surgeon wanted to operate on her so-called good ear, and she took one year to make a decision. Losing natural hearing is something people really want to hold onto. So it’s a big step for them to understand your story and I appreciate that.

Lou Ferrigno (12:13):
But I think it’s a good point you brought up because people that, for example, start to lose some of their hearing, I think in older, even different age, they should consider cochlear. Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate because then it’d be more detrimental.

Richard (12:25):
Lou, thank you so much for your time.

Lou Ferrigno (12:27):
You’re welcome.

Richard (12:28):
It was a pleasure to meet you in Tampa, and I hope we get to see more of you in the future, especially after you get your second one. I may want to do a third interview with you.

Lou Ferrigno (12:38):
You too. My pleasure.