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Burleson Mom Turned Internet Sensation Gets Second Ear Implant

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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BURLESON (CBSDFW.COM) – Sloane and Sarah Churman are finally facing a problem every other parent does, and they don’t mind at all.

For four years they’ve had to encourage their daughter Olivia to speak up, due to Sarah’s hearing impairment.  “Now we’re having to work on inside voice, inside voice,” Sloane said. “You don’t have to be near as loud.”

Churman is the Burleson mother turned internet sensation. After 29 years of being hearing impaired, she received an Envoy Esteem hearing prosthetic in late September.  Video of her raw, emotional reaction when the device was turned on got worldwide attention.

Youtube views are closing in on 10-million. As of late January her interview count was nearing 30. Film crews from at least five foreign countries have featured her story.  “If you’d a told us then, this was going to happen, I’d have called you a liar,” husband Sloane said.

The couple embraced the attention. The Esteem’s benefits don’t come cheap. The average cost is $30,000 for just one ear. Health insurance didn’t cover it. The couple decided the interviews were their opportunity to publicize the need for insurance coverage for the device.

The companies may have been listening. Envoy says Blue Cross Blue Shield in Alabama and Louisiana have indicated they will start covering the Esteem. The company also said AT&T now covers it for its 250,000 employees nationwide. Providers in other states, including Texas, could follow.

Insurance and benefits consultant Paul Bazelle said companies have to make sure they are backing an accepted procedure for a real medical problem.

“Insurance companies have medical practitioners on staff,” Bazelle said. “They know these protocols.”  But public pressure, he said, can probably help.  “It doesn’t make it happen, but it gets the ball rolling.”

Their willingness to talk about the benefits of the device has not been limited to media. The couple has received more than 34,000 emails. They regularly have strangers drive to their home just to talk, often leaving with reassurance about getting the device for themselves.

“A woman last week she drove three hours away to have lunch, to take me to lunch,” Sarah said.

The publicity was so great, that during an appearance on the Ellen show, Envoy agreed to refund Sarah’s cost for the device. The company also agreed to install one in her other ear, for free.

“Sharing 90 seconds of my private life, unintentionally or what not, has affected so many people in so many ways,” Sarah said.

In early January the Churmans headed back to the Envoy surgery center in The Woodlands.  Dr. Wayne Berryhill, who installed Sarah’s first device, said restoring a patient’s natural hearing has benefits far beyond just being able to hear.  “What you’re seeing is the emergence of a whole new personality and confidence in Sarah,” he said. “God gave us two good ears for a reason.”

Sarah had a three-hour surgery in January and is waiting for the implant to heal before it is activated. When it is turned on in a few weeks she will return home to hear two children, with two ears, for the first time in her life.  “I get choked up just thinking about it, but yeah, I don’t know how to explain it. I’m just a normal person you know.”

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