I just fell into a deep depression. It'd been 10 years and I was just so sick of it all...Not being able to be independent when you're 26 years old is a horrible feeling.


After multiple surgeries and the complete removal of her left ear canal, a 27 year old Paraparaumu woman may finally be at the end of an agonising 13-year battle to hear.

Vanessa Blair, who is 100 per cent deaf in her left ear after what started as a perforated ear drum at age 14, has received full funding for a CROS System hearing aid, a mini microphone type Bluetooth technology.

Used for unilateral hearing loss, the CROS System looks like any ordinary set of hearing aids and will be attached to her left ear, where it'll pick up and transmit sound directly to her fully functioning right ear via a wireless field.

For Vanessa, the opportunity means she's finally able to live a normal life again.


"Hopefully this'll be my last set of hearing aids," said Vanessa, who opted for lime green and purple hearing aids - validation of her optimistic attitude despite the odds.

"The other option given to me was to have a hole drilled behind my left ear and a little stud put in, which clips to a surgical aid, feeding noise completely past my ear and right to the source.

"But for me, it was too much of a risk because of everything I've been through."

Vanessa was among the two per cent of the population whose ear drums don't repair themselves after perforation, leading her on a downward spiral.

"Since it didn't heal, I had to have surgery where they put a graft in to patch up the perforated ear drum but by then, because of the damage, my ear drum had become inverted."

The inverted ear drum began vibrating onto the three small bones in her ear canal, known as the auditory ossicles, eventually causing them to dissolve.

The bones, which are among the smallest in the human body, transmit sound to the cochlea, which then translates the sound.

Hoping to help deter any further damage to her left ear, which had 85 per cent hearing loss, surgeons attached a replica ear drum.

However, without the bones to protect her ear and because of the delicate scar tissue, her ear drum became dislodged and disappeared.

"They patched it again and built me a new ear drum, with the same thing happening, because it just kept on inverting."

After the surgeries, her hearing aids no longer fitted properly, squealing as a result and getting worse with each surgery.

Due to the increasing scar tissue in her ear, Vanessa was told she had a 90 per cent chance of getting cholesteatoma, a fast spreading and potentially fatal growth, which can spread through the base of the skull and into the brain.

Six months later, it appeared, leading to further surgeries.

"Cholesteatoma is basically an accumulation of skin cells that feed off scar tissue, so the more scar tissue you have, the worse it gets.

"If it's not treated, eventually it'll just shut your brain down.

"Initially they dealt with it but didn't get it all, so in 2014, the cholesteatoma came back and went too far in, so surgeons had to cut out my mastoid bone."

Mastoid bones, one of four parts of the skull's temporal bones, make up the ear's structural foundation.

"That was supposed to be the 'fix it all' surgery," said Vanessa, who was told a few weeks later it hadn't worked.

"I just fell into a deep depression.

"It'd been 10 years and I was just so sick of it all."

Along with immense ear pain caused by cholesteatoma, Vanessa suffered from vertigo like symptoms, caused by the body's balance system relying heavily on the inner ear.

Having to leave her job working for government because of her unpredictable and worsening symptoms, Vanessa accepted the fact that some days she simply couldn't walk.

"I couldn't swim and I had to wear an ear plug in the shower and even washing my hair was really hard.

"If I got any water in my ear, I'd lose my balance and wouldn't be able to walk for up to three days."

Having had to shift from Wellington back to the coast, where she grew up, she moved in with her parents in Paraparaumu, after multiple falls including breaking her wrist.

"I remember ringing my mum one day in tears because I'd tried to go to the supermarket to get myself food and I didn't even make it through the veggie section.

"I was so angry because I couldn't look after myself.

"Not being able to be independent when you're 26 years old is a horrible feeling."

Last year, after pushing for another option to end her ongoing suffering, Vanessa was given the choice to have her entire ear canal permanently cut out.

"My surgeon had been trying to salvage my hearing, but for me it was about quality of life, even if that meant losing what minimal hearing I had left.

"So I told him to cut it out."

On September 4, surgeons completed the procedure, removing what was left of her ear canal and sealing it shut.

"It's so much better.

"I can actually walk distances without falling over, or getting headaches from concentrating so hard on looking straight ahead.

"It's the little things, like being able to wear a handbag on my shoulder and being able to swim for the first time in 13 years.

"Recently, I went kneeboarding and water skiing, which used to be my favourite sports."

Having returned to the workforce this month, Vanessa was looking forward to finally being able to hear the person on the left side of her speak.

"It's been a long and painful process that's taken up a lot of my younger years," she said.

"Now, hopefully, this hearing aid is the final step."