Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Deaf man who was NZ's youngest to get a cochlear implant graduates from University of Auckland

Being born totally deaf hasn't stopped a young Auckland man from graduating todaywith a Master's degree in clinical exercise physiology.

Josh Foreman, 25, was the youngest person in New Zealand to receive a cochlear implant when he was 2 and a half years old.

Josh Foreman's adoptive mother, Diane Foreman, was NZ Entrepreneur of the year in 2009. File/Photo
Josh Foreman's adoptive mother, Diane Foreman, was NZ Entrepreneur of the year in 2009. File/Photo

His adoptive parents, millionaires Bill and Diane Foreman, realised that he wasn't responding to sounds such as doorbells and barking dogs.

"So my dad took it upon himself to test me. He got two pots and stood over my cot while I was asleep and started banging them together, and I didn't wake up," he said.

More scientific tests followed, and confirmed that Foreman was profoundly deaf in both ears.

"Even if I stand beside a 747 jumbo jet I can't hear a thing," he said.

Josh Foreman, aged 10, using his cochlear implant to talk by phone to another boy born deaf in Australia. File/Photo
Josh Foreman, aged 10, using his cochlear implant to talk by phone to another boy born deaf in Australia. File/Photo

Doctors offered his parents a choice of sign language or what was then the new idea of a cochlear implant, an electronic device that gives deaf people a digital sense of sound but can't actually create the sounds that most people can hear.

"The quality of the voice changer is Donald the Duck speaking underwater, it's really quite disconcerting," Foreman said.

"The very first model I had was so big that I had to wear it on my back like a back-pack and a wire would come off it and attach to my ear."

Josh Foreman with his latest cochlear implant, which fits on to his ear. His first one was wired up to a back-pack. Photo/Greg Bowker
Josh Foreman with his latest cochlear implant, which fits on to his ear. His first one was wired up to a back-pack. Photo/Greg Bowker

But he is grateful that his parents chose to get him an implant, even though some deaf activists believe implants undermine the value of deaf culture.

"People are entitled to their own choice, but me, personally, I would say you should definitely get a cochlear implant because it will open new opportunities," he said.

It wasn't easy. It took him eight years to learn to speak properly, and he still needs to lip-read as well to make sure he understands people.

He needed full-time teacher aides throughout his schooling at King's School and then King's College. But in his first year at university he realised that he no longer needed the reader/writer assistant that he was given, and started taking his own notes.

"I always placed myself at the front of the class so I could hear the lecturer, and if I didn't catch something I'd ask them to repeat it or I'd check with my classmates," he said.

He completed a Bachelor of Physical Education in 2014. He loved sports and never let the cochlear implant become a barrier.

"I played rugby. I had custom-made headgear with more padding on one side [to protect the implant], and I played on the wing," he said.

He must take the device off his ear when he swims, but didn't let that stop him working as a swimming teacher.

"In the preschool pool I would sometimes leave it in because it was not too deep. For the older kids I'd take it out. I did all the talking and the kids did all the listening, hopefully they didn't need to ask questions."

He will graduate today with a Masters in Exercise Science and is working as an exercise physiologist for respiratory patients at the Greenlane Clinical Centre.

Josh Foreman, aged 9, with his speech therapist Liz Fairgray (centre) and Prime Minister Helen Clark at the opening of the Hearing House preschool in December 2000. File/Photo
Josh Foreman, aged 9, with his speech therapist Liz Fairgray (centre) and Prime Minister Helen Clark at the opening of the Hearing House preschool in December 2000. File/Photo

He also mentors teenagers with cochlear implants through the Hearing House charity, which his parents helped to fund.

"Sometimes they ask questions like, 'Will I ever get a job?' or 'Will I ever get a girlfriend?' " he said.

"I answer: 'Yes of course you will, you just have to work hard to get what you want. Just because you have got that cochlear implant doesn't mean you can't do anything.' "

Cochlear implants

What: A surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound for a deaf person, using a microphone behind the ear which transmits a signal to electrodes inside the inner ear.

Identification: All babies born in NZ since 2008 have been screened for deafness and are offered cochlear implants if they need them.

Numbers: The NZ government funds about 90 cochlear implants a year. About 1400 Kiwis now have the implants.

Video

- NZ Herald

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