The Walls - Lara, 36, a homemaker, and Michael, 41, an engineer - both lost their hearing during infancy due to high fever and meningitis. Four years ago they met in an Internet chat room for the deaf. Four months later they met in person, communicating in sign language. In July, they married, creating a blended family of three teenage girls. This past October, they went through another dramatic change together: undergoing surgery for cochlear implants at the UCLA Medical Center, enabling them to hear for the first time in nearly four decades.
Akira Ishiyama, assistant professor of head and neck surgery, performed the surgery, inserting the high-tech cochlear implants in the portion of the inner ear where bundles of hair cells normally stimulate auditory nerve fibers. These in turn create electrical signals that the auditory areas of the brain interpret as particular sounds. The cochlear implants compensate for damage to the Walls' hair cells.
Said Lara Wall in an e-mail shortly after the surgery, counting the days of the six-week wait before their implants could be turned on, "I am looking forward to being able to hear my special love's voice. I am also very anxious to hear our daughters' voices -- laughing, crying, giggling and their silly talk."
The Walls chose UCLA, 150 miles from their home in Ridgecrest, Calif., for the surgery because of UCLA's high standing in the medical community, Michael said.
On Nov. 13, audiologist Stanton Jones turned Lara's implant on.
"I love you," Michael said.
"I can hear!" Lara responded in sign language, bursting into tears. "I heard your voice, and it's beautiful!"
Michael's implant was turned on later that day, enabling him to hear Lara say, "I love you."
That evening, eager to hear the sound of ocean surf, the Walls celebrated at Santa Monica Pier. And while they must now undergo intensive training to learn to interpret human speech, they are quite pleased.
"We are really very happy," Lara said. "We are really enjoying hearing things and voices."