Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

Hearing is Believing


By Patrick Miller

Hearing loss can be a challenge in any aspect of life, but for Nancy Swisher it proved especially difficult in following her passion in caring for seniors. With help from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), Nancy has been able to maintain her job as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) doing what she loves.

Nancy’s hearing loss was first discovered in 1983 — her sophomore year of high school. Her sister took her to get her ears checked due to a strong occurrence of hearing loss in the family (her mother and six of her eight siblings suffer some degree of hearing loss). Deterioration of her hearing had begun, and she was referred to a counselor at DRS.

DRS is Illinois’ primary office working with people with disabilities so they may achieve their educational goals, find employment, and live independently.

After two years of training, Nancy was able to find and maintain work as a CNA through the help of DRS. “[They] helped me keep my job by keeping my hearing aids up and working, sending me to the audiologist when new ones were needed, and making sure I had the things I needed for my job.” Tools made available to Nancy included an alarm clock and blood pressure cuff that did not rely on the ability to hear.

With her hearing at only 10 percent functionality and continuing to decrease, Nancy decided to get a cochlear implant in 2011. Her mother, who has had two of the implants, was her inspiration, but DRS was there to guide her through the process. “The best was all the work we did together to get through all the paperwork,” Nancy said.

The implant, which feeds sounds directly to the auditory nerves as opposed to simply amplifying them, changed Nancy’s life. “Every day is a learning, new awakening for me. There are sounds I have never heard or heard correctly… it is amazing what is possible today.” She went on to describe the variety of sounds she can hear now, sounds many people take for granted, like birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind.

The best sound came the day the implant was turned on. After a six-week recovery from the surgery, the device was activated and Nancy’s audiologist brought her family into the room. Nancy describes the experience: “My son was very nervous because he was afraid it wouldn’t work for me. [The audiologist] told him to say something without me looking at him so I didn’t read his lips. He then said, ‘I love you, Mom.’ I couldn’t answer I was crying so hard; so I gave him the ‘I love you,’ sign. It was the best day ever!”

In returning to daily life, Nancy has found she can do her job even better. Being the caring person she is, Nancy strives to go above and beyond as a CNA. “The most rewarding part of my job is my residents,” she said, “sometimes all they want is for someone to actually listen to them, and now I can do that better than before.”

The assistance DRS has provided Nancy in overcoming her hearing-loss challenge has been inspirational. “I can’t say enough how DRS has enlightened my life,” she said, adding, “I would tell anyone about the help that is available, because, to be honest, not very many people know that DRS offers so many different lines of caring help.” Nancy has encouraged co-workers and family members in need to contact DRS.

DHS’ Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state’s lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities. To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, or 312-957-4881 VP, or go to www.drs.illinois.gov/success.