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Written By Bobby Schuller
Sarah Churman (SC) was born deaf and at 18 months old was fitted with hearing aids. Recently, Sarah was a candidate for the Esteem Implant by Envoy Medical Group and the YouTube video Sarah's husband took of her hearing for the first time became an internet sensation. Today, Sarah tells her story of faith and the awesome journey she's traveled the past year. Sarah has a new book, Powered On, which will be available in bookstores everywhere the third weekend of November. Bobby Schuller (BS) interviews Sarah.
BS: Well if you've been a part of this ministry for a long time, you know how important our stories are. We've had some amazing, incredible stories in the past, and we have another story this morning. Her name is Sarah Churman, and I first ran into this video on You Tube, which had something like fourteen million views, and the video was basically the first time Sarah ever heard. Sarah was born deaf, and she's going to tell us her story.
Welcome with me, Sarah Churman. Sarah, this video is so touching. I don't cry a lot. In fact, I give myself a quota of maybe once or twice a year, and the first time I saw this, it was just so gripping.
We have thousands of hearing impaired people watching the Hour of Power, so our program is closed captioned because we want people to be able to hear the program. So I thought it would be great to have you here and hear your story about how you got here and kind of where you have gone since then.
So just to begin, tell us a little bit about this story. You were born deaf, right?
SC: Yes sir. The genetic abnormality, just my parents DNA together caused the hairs in my inner ear not to form.
BS: So you grew up not being able to hear. And one day, your husband, Sloan was driving down the road and he heard an advertisement for a surgery.
SC: Yes sir. Back about six or seven years ago, we attended Baylor because I wanted to find out what the actual cause of my hearing loss was, and was there something that could be done about it. And at that time, they ran a bunch of tests and that's when they determined it was the inner ear problem. They told me that something was coming down the pipeline that would work for me. I was never a candidate for a cochlear, because it's the different part of the ear.
So Sloan was driving down the road, listening to a radio show and heard an ad for the Esteem Implant by Envoy Medical. He got a hold of me and was like 'get online and start Googling this. This is the surgery you've been waiting for.'
BS: So you're excited. You get online, you start Googling and then a big bummer, right?
SC: Yes, I get in contact with the company and start requesting information packets. I contacted a the lady from the company, and we're talking and I'm asking all my questions, and at one point we get to the cost question, and she informs me that its $30,000 per ear and insurance doesn't cover it.
BS: So how did you pay for the surgery?
SC: Well long story short, I was basically heartbroken and hung up the phone with her and called Sloan. I mean she might as well have said $30 million, in my opinion. It wasn't feasible for us. But his response was, 'don't even worry about. Call the lady back, finish asking your questions, it'll happen.'
So I did, I called her back and learned that not only is it $30,000, its $30,000 per ear. I'm on the phone bawling with this complete stranger, and I say I have to let you go. I talked to my husband again and I'm like 'it'd be $60,000 to get both ears done.' And he said 'don't worry, I'll sell a kidney, I'll join the Army, I'll sell the house, I'll do whatever.' And I was only okay with one of those options.
BS: So how did you get the money?
SC: Well after a couple of weeks' time, my mother-in-law had been praying about it, and she came to us one day and said, 'I really feel led to cash out my savings and give you this money.' She said 'I only have enough for one ear, but I feel like I want to do this.'
BS: So your mother-in-law's whole retirement was about $30,000, and she had to cash out the whole thing because it was important to her that you would hear. You know, it's just so touching that she was willing to give up so much so that you could hear.
SC: It was definitely very bittersweet for me, and I feel like I should add to it she was newly widowed, so in my mind, half of me was torn because I thought if something happened and say the next day she couldn't go to work because of an injury or something happened, that $30,000 is what would sustain her. So obviously I was touched and honored and just amazed that she was so willing to do that.
BS: And so you were able to get one ear done, and this video is the first time you're hearing for the first time. What was it like hearing for the very first time?
SC: There were so many emotions running through my head. I actually had the surgery in August, and they make you wait eight weeks to activate it, so it was the eight longest weeks of my life. And during the eight weeks time, fear starts creeping in. Half of me is nervous - what if it doesn't work? What if I don't like it, because even though it was something I've always wanted and science backs it up and says this is guaranteed, there's still a part of you that thinks well what if they turn it on and I don't like it or it doesn't work. The other part of me just wanted it to hurry up and be turned on so I could experience it.
BS: I keep wanting to ask you what it sounds like, but I suppose it's impossible to ask. Does it sound like what you would hear if you just had normal hearing? I mean you can hear music and you hear these things?
SC: I had 85 bilateral decibel loss which would be like a chain saw running at full throttle next to me for me to be able to register some sound. So with the Esteem Implant, they've bumped me up so I now have 40 decibel loss. An average person has about 10 decibel loss, so I'm just a little bit behind you.
BS: So you're just like an old man.
SC: There you go, sounds good!
BS: So now you have hearing in one ear and you hear your cry for the first time. You know one of the things that I'm wondering is how you speak so perfectly right now, even with a little bit of an all American Texas twang! I mean if you were deaf, how can you talk so well?
SC: My parents discovered my hearing loss at about 18 months old so I was given hearing aids around the age of two and quickly started attending deaf ed school, and took speech therapy and speech classes. Honestly, just going through all those classes, and then once I started attending public school, I still attended speech therapy. I've always loved to read. I've had a passion for the English language and grammar. I'm also very relational as far as focusing on people. You watch the way their tongue moves, their teeth placement, their mouth.
BS: So you read lips and everything.
SC: Yes sir.
BS: Okay, so then you go onto the Ellen Show and your story evolves even further. Ellen sees this video, kind of like I did, and she was deeply touched and wanted you to come on her show. Tell us what happened there.
SC: Well I feel like I should add that at first when they called and contacted me, it was just going to be Sloan and I and the girls going. And one of the pre interview questions was 'is there someone you would like to thank while you're on the show.' I said yes, and I got choked up and I explained about my mother-in-law cashing out her retirement savings. And they said okay; their words were “we'll be sure to hook her up with some nice swag while she's here.” So I'm thinking, okay like a day at the spa or a new purse. So I'm excited. I can't wait for this.
Well from the time we fly back home, because we were in New York for the Today Show, they had called my mother-in-law, Larry and asked her to fly out with us. So we end up all getting to go.
So I'm excited because I'm thinking they're going to present her with this day at the spa or something on the show. Well we're on the show and Ellen started her sentence, she said, “you know I don't believe a family should have to struggle like this.” She said, “so not only is Envoy Medical going to do your other ear for free,” and then she whips out this huge plastic check for $30,000 to pay Larry back.
BS: Wow! That's great! So they pay back your mother-in-law for all the money that she spent to give you the first implant, but then they also gave you your second implant for free. And you have them both now?
SC: Yes sir. And I feel like I should add a quick little tidbit to that. Before we went on the Ellen Show, my mother-in-law had gone to visit a friend in Nashville, Tennessee and she was flying back home on the airplane in the middle of a thunderstorm. She had a window seat and was looking out the window; its night time and they're in the middle of the clouds, going through this thunderstorm. She said part of me was scared because it was crazy being up there right there with it happening. And she said the other part, she sat there and she was just in awe.
Now this is right at the time in her life where she was really battling with depression. Her father had died, her husband had died, and we just had so many things that seemed to be falling apart. So she was looking out the window and was having some alone time with God. She was thinking you know this absolutely magnificent.
So she told the Lord, she said, 'if You were to ask me right now what I want,' she said 'we need something magnificent. We need a turn around, we need something.' And she said she remembered telling Him, 'if You don't do it, that's okay. You didn't answer my request in some other areas of my life, but I'll still love You and I'll serve You all the days of my life. But if You were to ask what I want right now, we need something magnificent to happen.' And it was within two days that we got the phone call from the Ellen Show, went on the Ellen Show and all that happened.
BS: That's wonderful. And of course you're a dedicated Christian. You were a missionary at one time, right?
SC: Back in 2006 and 2007, Sloan and I traveled to China. And of course you can't get into China with the term missionary. So a company hired us and Sloan taught English at a university over there.
BS: And so what you're doing now is it's like you are holding God's hand. Here this little video that was just meant to be posted on Facebook for your family to see, God has done and is continuing to do incredible things in your life. I mean it's just amazing what's happening.
SC: It just snowballed.
BS: Your story is so touching and now you're writing a book to kind of tell your story to the world. Tell us about your book.
SC: Back in February, I was approached by a publishing company out of Florida called Indigo River Publishing. They said we think you have a great story and we think this is a good idea. So I started writing and have actually finished it and its gone through the editing process and its going through test readers right now. It's called Powered On and it'll be out by the third weekend in November.
BS: That's great! We look forward to hearing more of your story.
Sarah, thank you so much for making the trip out here from Texas and telling us your story. You've really touched us deeply and inspired us, and I know that there are a lot of people who are still hoping, still waiting for that special thing, and I think that your voice is giving them that encouragement that they need.
SC: Thank you. And that's pretty much the basis to my book. The beauty of hope and overcoming, not just deafness, but all sorts of struggles.
BS: If there were one thing that you would tell all of the people that are listening around the world, what would you say?
SC: Oh man, there's so much I could say, but basically just hold fast. God promises and He delivers. It may not always be in our timing and in the ways we think, but it happens.
BS: Amen. Thank you, Sarah. It's been..
SC: Thank you so much.
BS: ..such a pleasure. Thank you for coming. Sarah Churman's book is entitled, Powered On, and will be available everywhere the third weekend in November.