#UPGraduation2021: ‘My hearing loss does not define me’ – UP Audiology graduate

Posted on May 08, 2021

Michèle Schoeman, who’s lived with hearing loss for most of her life, has graduated with a BA in Audiology from the University of Pretoria (UP). Schoeman, who hails from eMalahleni in Mpumalanga, is currently enrolled for an MA in Audiology at the University.

“UP is one of the few higher institutions in South Africa that offers Audiology as a course, and I am so fortunate that I could and still be part of UP and this particular course,” she says.

Schoeman’s entry into the world was beset with medical challenges. She was born with a teratoma, a rare type of tumour, which surgeons removed safely five days after her birth. But then she developed severe jaundice, possibly due to two intra-operative transfusions, and underwent treatment for repeated apnoea, a temporary cessation of breathing while asleep.

It was when her mother noticed that her four-year-old daughter’s language development was not appropriate for her age that Schoeman was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, and fitted with bilateral hearing aids.

When it came time to apply to university, Schoeman says audiology as a course of study didn’t cross her mind. “I wasn’t sure what to do – what I did know was that my purpose was to serve other people,” she explains. “I shadowed a few professions and the topic of being an audiologist came up. I remember thinking that I would never be interested in audiology: it was hard enough having hearing loss – why would I want to tell others that they have hearing loss? However, in the end, I applied for different courses at different universities and prayed that I would be accepted for the one that I was meant to do. I am very fortunate that I was accepted for audiology at UP; I just knew that it was, and is, the place that God wants me to be.”

Schoeman says that UP and the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology have given her great exposure to various fields and situations that she might encounter in the workplace, and that her qualification enables her to assist people with hearing loss, just like her, in ways that other audiologists may not. “I am a patient and a professional – I now understand both sides,” she says.

But, she emphasises, she did not choose to be an audiologist because of her own hearing loss. “My hearing loss does not define me – it is only part of who I am. I am an audiologist because I want to give others the help that was given to me; if you cannot participate in a conversation or communicate, that is very lonely and frustrating.”

Schoeman believes that her experience can give hope to the parents of children who suffer from hearing loss. “Patients would ask me questions about hearing loss and hearing aids, and I realise that I can give them not only theoretical advice straight out of a book, but practical, first-hand advice as well.”

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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