Sharne McSkimming does not take music for granted.
After all, it was not until she was 27 years old that she heard it properly for the first time.
Miss McSkimming was born profoundly deaf and received a cochlear implant in 2011 – a surgically implanted electronic device which provides a sense of sound to people who are severely affected by hearing loss.
The life-changing surgery was funded by the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme, but it was not an instant fix for the now 36-year-old Waimate woman.
After surgery, doctors waited six weeks before turning the device on, and even nine years later, she is still hearing some sounds for the first time.
“It took me a long time to get used to it,” Miss McSkimming said.
“Some things really surprised me – I didn’t know body spray made a noise.”
But the best thing about the implant was it allowed her to hear music.
“I love music now – I never used to hear it when I was growing up.
“It has become really important – I can’t be without it.”
Not hearing music until 2011 meant songs that were well-known before then were completely new to her.
“People always ask me how I haven’t heard some songs before.
“I have a lot of catching up [to do].”
Her parents, Christine and Murray McSkimming, were very supportive of her, she said. They encouraged her to live in both the deaf and speaking worlds, and used sign language with her.
She was also supported by teacher aides at Clyde School and Waimate Centennial School.
Many people in the deaf community only used sign language to communicate, but she was able to lip-read and speak, although there were still difficulties and misunderstandings.
Despite the challenges presented to her, she pushed through barriers, getting out in the world to complete things that were not traditionally done by deaf people.
With the assistance of a Waimate speech and drama teacher, the late Edith Grut, she achieved Trinity College of London level 1 and 2 speech and drama qualifications.
Being deaf meant her other senses were heightened, she said. She was a good reader of people’s expressions, and she felt most of the Christchurch earthquake aftershocks when others could not.
“Sometimes I would guess what people were saying before they say it.”
Miss McSkimming’s mother said deafness was still something that people did not always know how to react to.
“People got embarrassed and didn’t know how to act when she was little,” she said.
She was proud of how her daughter had pushed herself – working in shearing sheds, kitchens, retirement homes and now in a kindergarten.
Early childhood education was an area Miss McSkimming would like to specialise in, but she would like to see more support in the area for deaf people when it comes to being able to study.
As for advice for people speaking to someone hard of hearing, the most important thing was to speak slowly and look at their face, she said.
“Don’t yell – it doesn’t help,” Miss McSkimming said.
And there was one other advantage to the cochlear implant, she said with a grin.
“I can turn it off if I don’t want to listen.”