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Epic Determination to Hear How two cyclists help a young boy hear again

Read more Last updated: April 2021
In collection Sports
Reading duration: 5 minutes

The Cape Epic is one of the world’s toughest mountain bike races, held each year in the Western Cape, South Africa. Since 2004, the world’s top-notch mountain bike professionals have challenged themselves on this 435 miles course with 15 550 metres of vertical ascent. The Cape Epic, sometimes called the “Tour de France of Mountain biking”, stands for eight days of sweat, willpower, determination and perseverance. The racers’ reward beyond the prize money: a deep feeling of success, achievement, gratefulness and happiness.

Kamo's Gift Of Hearing

Determined to help

Robbie Hunter and René Haselbacher have both immersed in these feelings. The two retired professional road bicycle racers participated as a team in The Cape Epic. Their world revolves around cycling, racing, competing. They both know the true meaning of determination and endurance. Austrian-born René, who is married to a South African, fought his way back to success after severe racing accidents, determined not to let personal setbacks destroy his dreams.

South African Robbie Hunter, who retired from professional road cycling in 2013, is one of the country’s most successful cyclists ever. Even a broken bone after a crash in the Tour de France didn’t stop him from continuing his race.

There is one more thing the two cyclists have in common: their commitment to raising awareness of hearing loss. Haselbacher has first-hand experience with a family member. “My great-grand aunt was born profoundly deaf and never learnt to speak. She was considered an outsider all her life, was not able to express herself and often felt desperate, because nobody understood her. With today’s hearing solutions she would have led a totally different life, with a much better quality, she could have learnt to speak and would have been a part of society rather than an outsider”, René says. He was determined to give a child access to hearing and speech with the help of a cochlear implant (CI). It didn’t need much persuasion to bring his teammate Hunter onboard.

René Haselbacher and Robbie Hunter
© MED-EL

Soon after, words became action. In 2020 the two of them decided to dedicate their race to creating awareness for hearing loss and raise funds by auctioning their valuable mountain bikes during the Cape Epic Race. The proceeds would be donated to provide aftercare following cochlear implantation, including speech therapy. As the 2020 race was cancelled due to the Corona pandemic, they postponed their plans to the Cape Epic 2021.

Haselbacher and Hunter organised the entire project and sponsored the cochlear implant. Together with Cape Hearing Implants (CHi), a non-profit company, which consists of a collaboration of private healthcare professionals who specialize in implantable hearing solutions, they found a surgeon who performed the implantation for free. Cape Hearing Implants also chose a suitable candidate for the cochlear implant.

Determined to hear

The story of 8-year old Bokamoso Mahlatsane, nicknamed Kamo, is one of determination and willpower, too. Diagnosed with bilateral profound hearing loss, he slowly started to lose his speech. And his confidence. Despite using hearing aids, the formerly outspoken, bright and cheerful boy suddenly wanted to stay at home rather than play with his friends. He couldn’t follow conversations, couldn’t understand his friends properly, and began to struggle at school. The little boy and his family were determined to find a solution. They did not want to give up the dream of Kamo leading a life that would suit his witty, intelligent and vibrant character.

After his first assessment with his audiologist, Susan Eksteen at Carel du Toit Centre, Kamo was referred for cochlear implant evaluation and deemed an ideal candidate, but, he could not go ahead with the treatment, because it was not covered by his medical aid. But when one door closes, another one opens. In Kamo’s case, this other door was opened by the two cyclists René and Robbie.

The Cape Epic of Hearing

Liezel Kotze, Director of Cape Hearing Implants, explains: “The aim of our institution is to give people who would otherwise not have access to hearing, the gift of hearing. This is only possible for us through donations and contributions. Kamo was our choice for this particular donation because of the intelligent, very inquisitive, vibrant little boy that he is.”

Kamo received a MED-EL cochlear implant in September 2020. It’s been several months since his implantation, and he is now at the beginning of his journey to hearing. Learning to hear with a cochlear implant requires a lot of hard work, dedication and determination from everyone involved. And there’s many people involved: Kamo and his family, the cochlear implant team comprising psychologists, surgeons, audiologists, speech therapists, teachers and many more. In Cape Epic terms, cochlear implant surgery itself would just be the prologue. In fact, the journey to hearing with a CI is a lifelong one, encompassing more than just seven stages. “A cochlear implant is not a magic wand”, as Adri Schlichting, audiologist from CHi, put it.

But what exactly does cochlear implantation involve? What is the secret to hearing success, the secret of finishing the ‘Cape Epic of Hearing’ race?

After the first fitting of the cochlear implant audio processor, the moment when Kamo heard through his device for the very first time, an intense and critical period of auditory training followed. Now Kamo’s brain has to understand, identify and discriminate what the sounds all mean. His brain learns to make sense of the cochlear implant’s slightly different sound. And with sufficient training, with endurance, perseverance and determination Kamo will succeed in hearing better and better every day.

Bokamoso
© MED-EL

Determined to succeed

Kamo’s family plays a vital role in the success of this journey and are fully committed to their son’s hearing success. They take him for speech therapy, support his rehab at home, and send him to a school where he has access to specialist support. Kamo’s mother Sindiswa is overwhelmed, happy and grateful for her son’s CI. Her worries concerning his education are diminishing and she is optimistic about him moving forward, living a happy life and reaching his full potential.

With a cochlear implant being the technical prerequisite for hearing, Kamo can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Whether it is going back to mainstream school, interacting with his peers, and attending university one day. Basically, anything is possible. All it needs is willpower and determination. And sometimes a little – Epic - help from friends like Robbie and René.

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