Ohio Wesleyan junior Greg White and eighth grader Eddie Perry are connected by a rare item that has aided both of their lives markedly: a cochlear implant.
As of 2010, only 219,000 people worldwide had one, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. White and Perry are two of them, and Perry was searching for a person to whom he could look up to as a role model.
He found out about White online, and the eighth-grade basketball player decided he wanted to get in touch with him.
Perry’s basketball coach called men’s head coach Mike DeWitt and the two exchanged phone messages. Then, three weeks ago, the Perry family sent DeWitt an email, and the parties arranged for Eddie to come to the OWU basketball game on February 18.
“This is his Christmas present for this year,” said Eddie’s father, Jack, who brought his son from Minnesota to watch the game.
Despite their connection through the cochlear implant and basketball, Eddie traveled a much different path than Greg to get to this point.
Since Perry was born seven years after White, the technology for the implant was already in place by the time it was discovered that Perry had severe hearing loss. Therefore, his parents were able to get him an implant at the age of two, making the adjustment a little easier than it otherwise would have been.
On the other hand, White was unable to get an implant in his early childhood due to a lack of technology, according to his mother Kathe. Then, when the technology was made available, he was initially not approved for it.
Since he had made it for years without an implant, it was rationalized, he was not a high priority to receive the implant. The criteria for receiving an implant were much more stringent when White was younger, so children like him could not get implants.
After some time, though, the FDA loosened the regulations for receiving a cochlear implant. Finally, White received the implant he needed at age 13.
The implants are much different from hearing aids. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the implant doesn’t actually cure hearing loss. Instead, it turns sounds into electronic impulses that are sent to the brain, which changes the perceived sound of many things.
He admitted that the transition was not a smooth one in the beginning.
“The first couple months were really hectic,” says White.
Sounds that he never heard before the surgery frustrated him tremendously. However, over time, he was able to adjust to the new sounds and it has improved his quality of life tremendously.
In fact, DeWitt barely has to make any adjustments for White at practice despite his hearing difficulties.
“It’s more in games than at practice,” says DeWitt about making adjustments in his coaching for White.
He said that the pace of the game and the extra noise can sometimes make things tricky, but in the gym White can hear things clearly without repeating, most times.
Perry, a young point guard, sees White’s story as inspiration for learning how to adjust to life without the same gift of hearing as most people.