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A deaf couple's late-life cochlear implant

May 6, 2008 | 10:54 am


For her whole life, Irene Taylor Brodsky watched her profoundly deaf parents try to imagine sound. She saw her mother bopping along with unheard music as she blasted the stereo, her feet on the speaker so she could feel the rhythm of the vibrations. She heard her father wonder whether sound was beautiful, or "just noise."

"They have been dreaming about sound all of their lives," Brodsky says in a film about them.

Paul and Sally Taylor were 65 at the time of their cochlear implants -- technology that can restore the ability to hear. Brodsky is the director of "Hear and Now," an HBO documentary about her parents' deafness and restored hearing, debuting Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time.

Her parents fell in love in childhood when they both attended a school for the deaf. They built a family and a successful and happy life. Sally Taylor was a teacher with expert lip reading skills that she occasionally used to help law enforcement officials with investigations. Paul Taylor was an engineer and professor who helped develop TTY, a telephone communication device for the hearing impaired.

On the cusp of their retirement, they announced to members of their four-generation family -- three children, grandchildren and parents -- that they planned to have the surgery to restore some element of hearing.

There are moments of tear-jerking sweetness after the implants: Sally flicking a light switch on and off, flushing a toilet again and again, amazed at the noise. Paul driving through a carwash twice in one day just to hear the sounds of water hitting the car.

The documentary is the story of medical technology, its hopes and its limitations. It also offers insights on the brain, how it processes language and when it might be simply too late to teach the gray matter a new form of communication. Mostly, it is a love story.

--Susan Brink

Photo by "Hear and Now" director Irene Taylor Brodsky, courtesy of HBO