“I want to make it possible for others to experience what I have experienced.” Adrian Travo, who is in his late 30s, with a shaven head and clearly visible cochlear implants on both sides, has been working for Sonova France as a Clinical Engineering Manager for the Advanced Bionics brand since May 2015. It was his own life story that led him into this profession and drew him directly to Sonova. “This is more than a job for me. I see enabling others to hear again as a calling.” Adrian says he wants to help lead people out of the silence and loneliness that he himself had to endure so intensely and painfully.
Until he was 14, Adrian Travo had perfect hearing. He had a wide circle friends at school and played guitar with fellow pupils in a rock band. When he was 17, however, he began noticing difficulties with his hearing. Friends started making occasional remarks, and Adrian was finding it harder and harder to understand other people and follow conversations at parties or in large groups. But the high-school student didn’t want to face facts and carried on as he always had. Sometimes he thought the loud music might be responsible for his hearing loss, but the episodes were too irregular – and too severe. Eventually he decided to seek the advice of an otologist, who removed any lingering doubts, diagnosing him with a degenerative hearing condition. “It runs in our family. My grandfather, my mother and my sister all have this gene. At birth, my hearing had a potential lifespan of just 25 years.”
Adrian was initially fitted with hearing aids, but the cumulative hearing loss couldn’t be stopped and he had to hang up his guitar at 23. He was soon barely able to understand speech any more, and started to lip-read. Born in Strasbourg and growing up in Montpellier, he then began a degree course in molecular biology. After his master’s, he swapped over to biophysics, in which he also gained a doctorate. “I was a student for more than ten years. These studies were my salvation. I have no idea what would have become of me if I hadn’t stayed at university for so long.” After college he started afresh, moving to Bordeaux and taking a job in cancer research but, because of his hearing loss, he was becoming more and more isolated. “The only people I had anything to do with were my colleagues.” It was only when a speech therapist confirmed to him that he was relying exclusively on lip-reading that Travo halted his retreat from the world of sound. “I began to find out about cochlear implants, did some research on products and explored their relative technological merits.” After much careful reflection, he finally chose an implant manufactured by the Sonova brand Advanced Bionics. “I had previously already had Phonak hearing aids and I knew that both brands belonged to the same firm.”
Adrian Travo’s implants were fitted in 2012 and activated soon after. Initially, he could only hear a metallic noise, but after only 45 minutes, he was able to make out his own voice, and an hour and a half later he could distinguish the voices of other people. After two days, he could even hear birds chirping. “I was sitting in the park and I heard a noise. Then I saw a tree and some birds. I had completely forgotten what birdsong sounded like. It was wonderful.” He soon had the impression that he could hear better with the cochlear implant system than he ever had previously with his hearing aids. But he still wasn’t satisfied. “I went back several times for fine tuning of the settings. It was worth it, I was deciphering more and more words.” How is his hearing these days? “To be honest, I can’t remember how I used to hear as a teenager. My hearing is certainly not perfect and I occasionally have problems in group discussions, but there are some situations in which I can even hear better than people who are not affected by hearing loss.”
Adrian, who is tall (almost 1.90m), cannot understand why other people with hearing loss, or parents of affected children, decide against a cochlear implant for aesthetic reasons. As Advanced Bionics’ Clinical Engineering Manager for France, French-speaking Switzerland and Belgium, he is responsible for the technological interface between hospitals and Advanced Bionics, and here he has had personal experience of the positive development particularly children with implants can undergo. “If you fit a baby with one at an early stage, it works out very well. These little ones can follow the same developmental path as children who hear normally.” Léa Corbin from Nogent-sur-Seine is a perfect example – the little girl was 13 months old when Travo activated her cochlear implant system. “It was my very first activation with a baby and I was extremely nervous. The mother called me a month later to tell me that everything was OK. We have stayed in touch since then, and I have been following Léa’s progress for years now. She can hear everything and is even ahead of her peers in her speech development! It’s unbelievable.”
The implants were the beginning a new life for the young man. “The day I was fitted with the implants now means more to me than my birthday. I have won back my life, and I want to benefit from this and experience all sorts of special things.” He was soon making this wish come true, taking off on his motorbike (his great passion) on a tour through France to visit old friends. They scarcely recognized him. “They said I was so full of energy and so cheerful. That I was finally able to laugh again. Only then did I notice how greatly the impairment had affected my life. Some people even cried when they saw me. They said it was a miracle – and, in a way, it is!” Adrian is proud of his cochlear implants and makes a point of shaving his head so that everyone can see them easily. Hardly a day goes by without someone mentioning the two transmitters of his sound processors, which are attached to his scalp using magnets. “People often think I work in the army or as a bodyguard. I think it looks sexy – and it’s just cool to be a cyborg.”
It comes in extremely handy during his day-to-day work that the Sonova employee wears Advanced Bionics implants himself. “Thanks to me, most parents feel more certain that opting for an implant was the right choice. They know that I have gone through that experience myself and I know what I am talking about. A lot of them say to me that they hope their children turn out just like me. I find that very moving.” When he visited Léa’s home again in the spring of 2019, the little girl was beside herself with joy. She has grown up into a sprightly nursery school pupil, and the little one surprised “her friend Adrian” with a picture she had painted. Moved, 38-year-old Adrian took the picture home with him. He has had the child’s artwork framed and it now hangs over his office desk. “When I look at this drawing, I know why I do the work I do.”