Soundtrack of Silence: Matt Hay’s NPR interview

Apr 18, 2017, Posted in Awareness, CTF in the News, NF Hero, NF2

Matt Hay spoke with KQED-FM's (Northern California Public Broadcasting) storytelling podcast, Q'ed Up, about losing his hearing, falling in love with his wife, starting a family, and living with neurofibromatosis type 2. Matt is a member of the Children's Tumor Foundation Board of Directors. 

Matt Hay is a sophomore in college when he finds out he is going to lose his hearing. He coasts through the early years of his diagnosis in denial, but as his hearing aids get bigger and bigger, Matt realizes he wants to capture the sounds that are slipping away: his girlfriend’s voice, the click of her heels; and especially, the songs of their invincible youth.

Matt starts listening to music with a new appreciation — truly studying it, as he curates the soundtrack for the rest of his life. Behind each song, there is a coming-of-age story about freedom, tragedy, and falling in love. When Matt’s hearing eventually fades to nothing, the silent soundtrack in his head takes on a role he never imagines.

Listen to the Soundtrack of Silence on KQED’s new storytelling podcast, Q’ed Up.


John:                                     You're listening to Queued Up, Storytelling with Heart. I'm John Sepulvado. If you've been listening to American Suburb, you know that we wrapped up last week. You can download all the chapters and get caught up, but this week we're bringing you a very different story called Soundtrack of Silence. Here's April Dembosky with the story.

April:                                     Matt Hay was in his early 20s when doctors told him he was going to lose his hearing. He began to prepare. He started taking sign language classes and learning how to read lips. He also doubled down on music.

Matt Hay:                            When you think about getting a song stuck in your head, that usually just happens until you hear the next song and then that one gets stuck in your head. I found myself in a moment where I thought, "What songs do I want stuck in my head for the rest of my life?" [Music 00:00:49]

April:                                     He wanted to capture the memories attached to those songs, going out with his buddies, driving fast down the freeway, falling in love for the first time.

Matt Hay:                            You very quickly want to start hearing things like, listen to those songs that really meant a lot to you because you might not ever get to hear them again.

April:                                     We all have a soundtrack to our lives, but what if you were 21, just coming of age, and you had to choose then what the soundtrack would be for the rest of your life? [Music 00:01:22] What if your life went on, but the music in your head stayed the same?

[Music 00:01:33] In retrospect, Matt says his hearing was always kind of bad. He grew up in the 80s, when people never gave much thought to protecting their ears.

Matt Hay:                            I grew up around lawn mowers and chainsaws and we caught firewood and trimmed trees and mowed lawns.

April:                                     He remembers cheating on those audio tests they did in elementary school.

Matt Hay:                            I never raised my hand enough in the whole tone test. I can even remember sometimes raising my hand because I felt like it had been too long since I heard the tone so I was just making it up.

April:                                     When it came time to think about college, he applied to West Point. He had to go through the requisite physical at Fort Knox, urinalysis, hearing test.

Matt Hay:                            I failed. I got a letter from the government that I had failed because of substandard auditory acuity.

April:                                     He shrugged it off and went to Indiana University instead, but during his sophomore year, he noticed when he talked on the phone, he was always holding the receiver to his right ear. He figured, "Okay I better go see the audiologist."

Matt Hay:                            She said, "Your results have just come back really weird. I'd like you to have an MRI." I'm like, "Nobody goes for an audiogram and comes out with a diagnosis of getting an MRI."

April:                                     The scan showed two tumors in his head, pushing up against his left and right hearing nerves. Doctors diagnosed him with a rare condition called neurofibromatosis, type 2.

Matt Hay:                            It affects one in 40,000 people and we had never heard of it because why would anybody have heard of it?

April:                                     The tumors are benign and they were small so Matt took a wait and see approach. Within a year, he was basically deaf in his left ear, but his right ear was fine. He figured he was fine.

Matt Hay:                            I'm still active, healthy college student doing absolutely everything I want to do. I just have trouble hearing, no big deal.

April:                                     Junior year midterms, the doctor said it was time for brain surgery. Matt's left hearing nerve was already permanently damaged so they weren't going to touch that. They wanted to remove the tumor on the right side, but the surgery didn't work. Doctors couldn't get the tumor out without damaging that hearing nerve too. Instead, they removed a piece of Matt's skull just to give the tumor more room to grow. Matt's reaction to all this gives you a sense of the kind of guy he was and still is.

Matt Hay:                            I was back a week later, out with a friend for my 21st birthday. It was like, "Hey no big deal. Even if I have to have brain surgery, I'm still immortal Matt."

April:                                     He graduated college and moved to Chicago. He rented an apartment with three of his buddies and he got his first job doing sales for a market research firm.

Matt Hay:                            Then in Chicago, my hearing started getting worse and worse.

April:                                     Matt was 22. His right ear, his good ear was starting to falter. The tumors were getting bigger.

Matt Hay:                            Everything grew really fast. I mean, it went from nonissue to major issue.

April:                                     Matt went back to the doctor and he told Matt what he didn't want to hear. Could be a few years, it could be ten, but eventually he would be deaf. This doctor, he had a funny way of putting things in perspective.

Matt Hay:                            He said, "You know what? You're probably going to lose your hearing. It's not that big of a deal."

April:                                     Yeah, it's not that big of a deal.

Matt Hay:                            Which is a bold statement for somebody that's not going to lose their hearing.

April:                                     What the doctor meant was this disease is serious. It's not just tumors that cause hearing loss. These tumors can grow anywhere. Matt could become paralyzed or blind.

Matt Hay:                            His point was there's a lot that can go wrong with NF and hearing loss is relatively minor.

April:                                     That forced Matt to faced reality. He realized he needed to prepare. He signed up for a sign language course. He started learning to read lips and he started paying attention to music like he never had before.

Matt Hay:                            When you have a neurosurgeon say, "Hey you're going to lose your hearing, but that's not that big of a deal," you very quickly want to start hearing things, listen to those songs that really meant a lot to you because you might not ever get to hear them again.

April:                                     He chose a handful of songs that he listened to on repeat, over and over.

Matt Hay:                            I found myself in a moment where I thought, "What songs do I want stuck in my head for the rest of my life?" [Music 00:06:02]

April:                                     He was basically curating the soundtrack to his future. For Matt, that started with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Prince.

Matt Hay:                            It was one of those, "I really need to start cramming for Prince."

April:                                     When his hearing went, he wanted to be able to recall the songs in his head, but also the memories he associated with those songs. This one takes him back to high school when he and his good friend Stephanie first got their driver's licenses.

Matt Hay:                            I have great memories of going down, driving down the highway in her Subaru Legacy with all four windows down on a summer evening and just Seven turned up all the way and all of us singing horribly along with it. [Music 00:06:45]

April:                                     Matt was really deliberate about choosing songs he associated with good times. He was not sitting down and memorizing angsty teenage rock anthems or depressing ballads. [Music 00:07:13]

Matt Hay:                            I never connected with melancholy. That was just not how I've been programmed. [Music 00:07:27] If there was a song I associated with sadness or loneliness, it's not something I would have latched onto. [Music 00:07:38] I still was at a point where I was a little bit invincible. Yeah, I had one brain surgery, but I bounced back from that in no time. [Music 00:07:51] Maybe I'll be the one to avoid all of this. [Music 00:07:58] When I think about good vibrations, I just think about the three buddies and an apartment where we're all working and getting a real paycheck for the first time in our lives and we've got our own place. We're going out in the city and we come back from a night out and just, let's play some Beach Boys. [Music 00:08:20] At a time, I can remember thinking, "I don't think people appreciate just how great this song is," so that became one that I thought, "I really need to capture that song." [Music 00:08:49]

April:                                     Around the same time that all this was happening, Matt met a girl, Nora. They had both known of each other in college, but it wasn't until six months after graduation that the spark came. It was at a New Year's Eve party in Chicago. [Music 00:09:04]

Matt Hay:                            This was 2000, so they played Prince's 1999 and then it's midnight and they played The Backstreet Boys Millennium song. At some point in the night, I got into this really great conversation with Nora. I was just really struck by her. She's incredibly intelligent.

Nora Hay:                            He was funny.

Matt Hay:                            I remember her just being this very joyful person.

Nora Hay:                            He was kind.

Matt Hay:                            She was also very cute.

Nora Hay:                            He was cute. [Music 00:09:35]

Matt Hay:                            At midnight, I positioned myself to kiss Nora at midnight.

April:                                     For Matt, this kiss wasn't just the start of a new year. It was the beginning of a new era. He got Nora's phone number and the next week, he called her. Nora was in med school in Indianapolis at the time and a couple weekends later, Matt was on his way for a visit. He left work on Friday evening, then stayed until 4 AM on Monday. It was awesome.

Matt Hay:                            We started doing that once a month. Then it became every other week. Then it became every week.

April:                                     Indianapolis is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. The song Matt studied on these trips was a 15-minute opus by Phish. [Music 00:10:25]

Matt Hay:                            At first, I wrote off Phish because they can go on these long jam bandy things, which are not always hearing friendly, but Divided Sky just had ... Even if I wasn't picking up every little intricacy of the music, it had these really cool waves of crescendos, of building up to a moment, and then kind of slowly backing away, and then building up to a moment. Sometimes I would just listen to that song ten times and it never got old.

April:                                     Come summer, Nora moved to a town just outside Chicago so she could be closer to Matt. Nora knew from the beginning that Matt had a disease that affected his hearing, but it wasn't an issue.

Nora Hay:                            He had a good side so I would always walk on that side, talk on that side. It became habit, so that was no big deal, really.

April:                                     When she started going with Matt to his doctor's appointments, he told her she should be taking those sign language classes too. She started to realize how much more there was to this disease.She and Matt doubled down on music together. They went to concerts and festivals.

Nora Hay:                            U2 ...

Matt Hay:                            Paul McCartney ...

Nora Hay:                            Phish ...

Matt Hay:                            Camping at Phish shows ...

Nora Hay:                            Beck ...

April:                                     The memories Matt wanted to capture the most were the intimate ones at home.

Matt Hay:                            I can remember Nora taking a radio into the bathroom and smell her perfume and overhear the music she's listening to as she's getting ready to go out. [Music 00:12:22]

April:                                     Beautiful Way was always the song. [Music 00:12:34]

Matt Hay:                            I'd go in and peek in and she's singing to herself and just probably having more fun getting ready listening to music than she had going out.

April:                                     If there was any song that was Matt and Nora's song, it was this one. [Music 00:12:58]

Matt Hay:                            It just really resonated with us. [Music 00:13:04]

April:                                     Matt remembers this time Nora helped him and his friends move into a new apartment. They spent the day in sweatpants and T-shirts laughing, joking around. Nora made moving fun.

Matt Hay:                            I remember listening to Beck and being in our new apartment with boxes everywhere and dancing to Beck. That was the first time that I told her, "I think I'm falling in love with you." I think when you have the right moment in your life and the right person and the right situation, that the song that's there when that happens can become really powerful for ways that you didn't expect or maybe you can't describe.

April:                                     Matt thought if his world went silent and he conjured the melody from Beautiful Way in his head, he could also conjure the feeling of falling in love.

Matt Hay:                            When I would think, "I'm losing my hearing," I would think, "Nora, I want to make sure that I remember what these sound like." [Music 00:14:02]

April:                                     That fall, Matt and Nora had been dating nine months when they faced their first test with Matt's disease. Matt was 23 and his hearing was still gradually getting worse, but slowly. The problem was with a new tumor that showed up.

Nora Hay:                            He had a spinal tumor in his neck that became awful to the point where he couldn't really move, sleep, do much at all.

April:                                     He was going to need major surgery to remove it. Matt felt guilty. He loved Nora, but he didn't want to burden her and he didn't want her to resent him.

Matt Hay:                            I was like, "Hey I get it. You don't owe me anything. I'm going to be in rehab. I don't know what life is going to be like for me. I totally get it if this is more than you wanted to sign up."

April:                                     Nora, she was in. She dropped out of med school. She says her priorities shifted after falling for a guy with a disease that reminded her of how short life was. [Music 00:15:24] When the big day came, Matt remembers Nora driving him to the hospital.

Matt Hay:                            We listened to this on the way to surgery. [Music 00:15:35] Don't Worry About a Thing is a good theme when you're on your way to brain surgery.

April:                                     It's one of those songs from Matt's positive vibes repertoire.

Matt Hay:                            This is the song that we did to do something other than cry. [Music 00:15:56]

April:                                     The surgery wasn't all right. The doctors removed the tumor from the top of his spine, but there was a complication.

Nora Hay:                            He woke up from that surgery and couldn't walk. He had sensory loss from the waist down.

April:                                     Doctors sent him to rehab, but it was unclear if he would ever walk again.

Nora Hay:                            The doctor casually said, "Well wherever we are in a year, that's where we'll be." That's all anybody really knew. [Music 00:16:35]

April:                                     Matt was by far the youngest person in the rehab and the schedule was not designed for 23 year-olds. Lunch was at 11, dinner was at 4:30, lights out at 6. Nora would come break him out of there.

Matt Hay:                            She'd take me to the mall and push me around in a wheelchair and we got in trouble for staying out too late, which was like 5:30. 23 year-old rehab rebels.

April:                                     Matt saw what he had, a girl willing to give up med school to sneak him sandwiches, to snuggle in his twin bed watching old movies, a girl who after vising hours trained for a marathon to raise money for research into neurofibromatosis 2.

Matt Hay:                            I thought, "You can't not marry the girl that does that." [Music 00:17:26]

April:                                     Two years after surgery, Matt and Nora got married and bought a condo in Chicago. Life was normal and happy. Physically, Matt was fully recovered, back to his invincible self, but his hearing continued to get worse. A hearing aid in his right ear, his good ear, kept getting bigger until it was as big as it could get. Matt could no longer hear soft sounds like the door opening when Nora came home from work or her heels on the kitchen floor.

Matt Hay:                            Our system was when she would walk in the door to flip the lights on and off because otherwise I'd be doing something and all of a sudden she would be there and would scare me.

April:                                     Talking on the phone was a big problem. Matt couldn't follow conversations so it would only work if he asked the questions, simple questions.

Matt Hay:                            For me to be able to call and say, "Did you need me to go the grocery on the way home?" She'll say one for yes, two for no. She'll either say yes or no, no.

April:                                     Though Matt's hearing had been declining gradually since high school, there was a day when it finally went. He was 27.

Nora Hay:                            It was August 18th of 2004. Matt had come home for lunch that day. We had lunch on our rooftop and I remember him walking away and I yelled to him and he didn't turn, which then with one ear he could have, should have. He went back to work.

Matt Hay:                            I can remember being in the elevator in my office at work and was going down the elevator and somebody was making small talk and just for no reason at all, it sounded like they were underwater when they talked to me.

Nora Hay:                            He called me and he said, "Things are sounding weird today. It's tinny, it's muffly, like something's not right."

Matt Hay:                            I hopped on the train and I went home. As soon as Nora got home from work, I said, "I think ... We're done."

Nora Hay:                            We were told this is how it could go.

Matt Hay:                            There was a place on Division Street, Adobo Grill, that has great margaritas and great guacamole, the table side guacamole. We went and got guac ... What do you do when you lose your hearing? You go get margaritas and guacamole. I can remember walking there and just sitting across, having margaritas and telling each other, "I love you."

Nora Hay:                            He wanted me to laugh. He wanted me to laugh so he would remember that ... And hear me say, "I love you." [Music 00:20:28]

Matt Hay:                            You can mouth the words, "I love you" to somebody. You can sign, "I love you" to somebody, but I wanted to make sure I remember what it sounded like. [Music 00:20:45]

April:                                     A lot of people think being deaf is like living in absolute silence, but it's actually really noisy. Matt had major tinnitus. When he could hear, any sound coming in would mask the ringing in his ears, but when his hearing went, the ringing was unbearable.

Matt Hay:                            I would have one ear that sounded like a roaring freight train and the other ear would sound like a cryptic organ. It's constant sound coming in a different pitches and it almost feels like different volume. They don't exactly know what causes it, but it's almost like phantom limb pain where your brain wants to hear something. When it can't, it manufactures its own noise.

April:                                     In terms of the outside world, he got nothing, even fire alarms. Nothing. This became dangerous in more ways than one.

Matt Hay:                            I would leave doors open, leave cars running, burn pizzas in the oven.

Nora Hay:                            I remember the first couple of days, I would forget. I would see something or I'd go to tell him something or I'd say, "Matt, Matt!" Then I'd be like, "He doesn't hear me. It doesn't matter how loud I yell anymore." I remember sitting there in my condo looking right at him, screaming, and just being reminded, "Wow, this has changed."

April:                                     Communication became a big problem. Matt's lip reading skills were minimal. He had Nora had taken those sign language classes, but they only ever made it to the beginner level.

Nora Hay:                            When the time came when we needed it, that's not how we communicated. It was more finger spelling or even charades.

April:                                     I mean, think about it. We're not just talking about, "Did you feed the dog? Will you get the mail?" This was a rough time. They're in their mid-20s just building a marriage and now their world was turned upside-down and the only way to talk about it was to spell out every word they wanted to say.

Nora Hay:                            It was super frustrating and at a time when I needed him. I mean, we even had to learn to communicate, but we had to learn how to fight too.

April:                                     They couldn't yell anymore.

Nora Hay:                            It's hard when you're mad to slow down and enunciate and keep eye contact because sometimes you want to just throw something and walk out of the room, but you can't.

April:                                     As if all this wasn't enough, ten days after Matt's hearing went for good, Nora's dad died totally unexpectedly. He drowned in an accident.

Nora Hay:                            It was just not even real. I've got this husband who I now can't communicate with, I've suddenly lost my dad, and it's just ... It's almost like I couldn't even, you know? It was so much at once.

April:                                     The only thing Nora could focus on was what next.

Nora Hay:                            I just turned into like an admin person because that's all I could do at that time is just figure out what we were going to do.

April:                                     Nora's main task at this time was talking to doctors in Los Angeles. That's where Matt was going to have his next brain surgery. They were finally going to remove the tumor on his hearing nerve, but there was an experimental part of the surgery too. Doctors were going to implant a new hearing device right at the bottom of Matt's brain. It's called an auditory brainstem implant or ABI. The couple was taking a risk here.

Matt Hay:                            One of the things that really scared me most through this process was I liked to research. I'm in marketing research. I research things as a career and so when I went to research the ABI or I want to talk to people about the experience, there was nobody to talk to.

April:                                     This is not a cochlear implant. About 100,000 people have one of those. At the time of Matt's surgery, only 200 people had an ABI device.

Matt Hay:                            The one person I finally get in touch with was just miserable. They were really unhappy with their ABI. They were really unhappy with their experience.

April:                                     At best, these devices restored the most basic level of hearing and there was only a 50, 50 chance that it would work at all.

Matt Hay:                            Even if it does work, you should expect what they would describe as hearing life noises, buzzers, alarms. At that point when you can't hear anything, that even sounds great.

April:                                     These things are unusual. They have a spotty success rate and it requires major, invasive brain surgery to put them in place. Matt and Nora figured they should go to the place with the most experience putting them in, like maybe the place that invented them. That would be The House Ear Institute in LA, where Doctor Bilhaus implanted the first auditory brainstem implant in 1979. All the doctors Matt saw in Indiana had been trained here.

Matt Hay:                            When you're trying to get a sense back, you don't want to go to the convenient hospital that has done one or read about one. [Music 00:26:53]

April:                                     To understand how an auditory brainstem implant works, it's helpful to review some fifth grade science on how our hearing works in general.

Science Video:                  It is indeed rightly called the most remarkable, mechanical system in the human body.

April:                                     Sound waves enter your ear canal[crosstalk 00:27:09] and vibrate the eardrum.

Science Video:                  As drumsticks beat upon a kettle drum or tympanum.

April:                                     That shakes the middle ear bones, which push the sound to the spiral cochlea.

Science Video:                  Which has the shape of a snail or cockle shell.

April:                                     The cochlea translates the sound vibrations into nerve impulses.

Science Video:                  These impulses are conveyed to the brain by the auditory nerve.

April:                                     With Matt, there's nothing wrong with his ears. His eardrum, ear bones, cochlea, those all work fine. What doesn't work are his two hearing nerves that carry sound from the ears to the brain. The little ABI device, it bypasses the ear and the hearing nerve completely and gets implanted right on the brainstem itself. [Music 00:27:48] A month after Matt and Nora sat over margaritas saying their final, "I love you's," Matt had the ABI device implanted in his brainstem. A month after that, the doctors turned it on.

Matt Hay:                            At first, it just sounded like water running. It sounded like somebody smashing up newspaper or wrapping paper. Things were just very robotic.

April:                                     Matt says at that point, hearing anything was crazy.

Matt Hay:                            The sound you're used to, you can kind of tell. You can locate noise. You can kind of feel noise coming in your ears. This was totally different because the sound came from the inside, out. It went directly to my brain so it bypassed the feeling of being able to hear.

April:                                     Normal acoustic hearing relies on 60,000 nerve fibers. Matt was down to 21 man-made electrodes. He had to learn how to hear all over again, almost like learning a new language. At first, all the sound coming through the ABI device was just gibberish. Everything sounded the same.

Matt Hay:                            Clapping or a dog bark or an oven timer going off, everything just had the same kind of lump, lump, lump, lump. Charlie Brown's teacher is probably the best analogy I can make. There was no clarity to anything.

April:                                     Every couple months for the next year, Matt came back to LA so the audiologist could essentially tune the ABI. He would adjust each of the 21 electrodes until those sounds gradually came into focus. The guy to do that was Matt's audiologist at The House Ear Institute in LA.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  I'm Steve Otto.

April:                                     He's kind of like a piano tuner.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  I've been doing that for 30 years.

April:                                     Making all the electrodes on the ABI device work together in harmony.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  I test each one of the 21 electrodes and I'll ask the person, "What's the sound like? Is it low-pitch? Is it high-pitch?"

Matt Hay:                            If anybody's gotten fitted for glasses and you go in and they put the big disks in front of your eyes and they say, "Which is better, this or this?" The A goes from being really blurry to being really crisp.

April:                                     Once Matt was able to distinguish basic sounds, the oven timer from the dog barking, it was time to try a word test.

Word Recording:              Smile.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  They hear the recording say a word.

Word Recording:              Gum.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  Their job is to repeat the word.

Word Recording:              School.

April:                                     This is really hard for new ABI patients to get right.

Word Recording:              Think.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  They say, "When you say mom, what I hear doesn't go with what I see on your lips."

Word Recording:              Meat.

April:                                     For those first several months after surgery, Matt was communicating one word at a time. Yet somehow, to Nora and Matt, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about whether or not they should have kids. They were 28 and none of their friends had kids, but for Matt and Nora, time was on fast-forward. After two brain surgeries, the answer to big life questions always seemed to be, "Why wait?"

Matt Hay:                            We had just lived a lot of life quickly. It forces you to sort of speed up some life decisions.

April:                                     There was a much bigger question here. Neurofibromatosis 2 is genetic. Matt had a 50, 50 chance of passing it on to his kids.

Matt Hay:                            That was a tough time where we started thinking, "What's our longterm plan? Are we going to have kids? Do we cross our fingers and hope for the best? Do we adopt?"

April:                                     Even beyond that, Matt worried. He'd just lost his hearing. His balance was bad. He might end up with serious mobility challenges down the road.

Matt Hay:                            Then I start wondering, "Can I be a dad? Am I even going to be happy or can I do all of the things that I want to do as a parent? Would I ever hear my kids talk?"

April:                                     This was a very motivating question for Matt. He doubled down with the ABI training. Even though the sound was unpleasant and didn't make sense, he pushed through. He went back to LA for a six-month tuneup and now Matt was ready to try full sentences. [crosstalk 00:32:04] Matt's audiologist Steve Otto puts a new cassette in his player and a woman transplanted from the 80s comes on to the TV screen.

Sentence Video:              Please get the groceries out of the car and put them away for me.

April:                                     She is wearing a pink turtleneck and her hair is feathered out.

Sentence Video:              Make sure you call your brother this week.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  It's a sentence test and the object is for them to repeat as much of the sentence as they can.

April:                                     Matt might only hear a couple words.

Sentence Video:              Take the dress ... Like.

April:                                     He can lipread a few more.

Sentence Video:              Take the dress ... And buy ... That you like.

April:                                     When he combines hearing and lipreading together, Matt can understand about 90 percent of what's being said.

Sentence Video:              Take the dress back and buy something that you like.

April:                                     Otto says Matt is way above average.

Dr. Steve Otto:                  He's a real motivated guy. He's employed so his hearing is very important for him. It's part of his money making machine.

April:                                     Four months after surgery, Matt is back at work full-time. His boss found him a new market research job that he could do online, but a few months after that, Nora is pregnant with twins. Otto says this is one of the main predictors for how well people progress with the ABI. Matt wanted to hear his kids' first words.

Matt Hay:                            Just like anything else, practice, practice, practice.

April:                                     Matt was starting to be able to hear some more nuanced things.

Matt Hay:                            The sound of my wife's heels on hardwood floors when she would come walking in, so I can't hear the door open because that was a soft sound, but I would know she would be home because of the click, click, click of the heels.

April:                                     There was one time he was coming back from the grocery store, walking up the stairs to their condo.

Matt Hay:                            I kept hearing this whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

April:                                     He stopped and looked around. He examined the heating vents.

Matt Hay:                            When you only have one ear, you can't identify where a sound comes from. I hear this whooshing sound, but I have no idea if that's from above, below, right next to me.

April:                                     He put the groceries down and retraced his steps down the stairs.

Matt Hay:                            It wasn't until I had walked back down and back up that I realized it was the sound of the seam on the inside of my jeans rubbing against each other. It had been maybe 20 years since I had heard something as soft and subtle as the sound of your own pants rubbing against each other when you walk.

April:                                     It was an amazing moment for Matt and it made him wonder what other sounds he could reclaim. When he originally set out to memorize his favorite songs, he thought he'd never hear again. Now with the device, maybe he could combine his memory with the digitized sound waves to hear something that sounded like music. He had to start simple.

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