5 minutes with: Liz Arendt
PUBLISHED: 11:23 17 February 2016 | UPDATED: 11:23 17 February 2016
The chairman and founder of the Hertfordshire branch of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People has helped to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to support people with hearing loss. She describes the group's work and her breakthrough surgery ahead of World Hearing Day this month
The theme for World Hearing Day on March 3 is childhood hearing loss. As someone who experienced this, can you describe its impact?
A bout of scarlet fever when I was eight caused partial deafness, but no-one realised I couldn’t hear properly, not even me. I instinctively sat at the front of the class so I could hear the teacher, and I got on well in school because I learned to lip read. It wasn’t until I applied for a teaching post that a medical examination revealed I was partially deaf.
I was lucky in that I was able to cope, but it is vital that any hearing loss in a child is picked up early as it can affect speech and the ability to learn. Uncorrected hearing loss will mean the child will miss out on life.
You are a major force for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Tell us about your work
I was given my first hearing dog, a black Labrador called Ruffles, in 1996. Two years later, I started the Hertfordshire and North London branch of the charity with just a few friends. Now we have 200 members and 46 hearing-dog partnerships.
There isn’t a corner of Hertfordshire I haven’t been to raise money, always with Ruffles and now Maple, who is very laid-back and thoroughly enjoys all the attention. I also raise awareness by doing talks with Maple, who is one of only 10 hearing dogs in the country allowed to demonstrate.
You are retiring from your role as chairman of the branch in May after 18 years. What memories will you cherish?
Receiving my MBE in 2004 and then becoming the Hearing Dogs’ Volunteer of the Year in 2010 were great moments. I also felt very proud when the Hertfordshire branch reached its first half million pounds in fundraising in 2012 – to date, we’ve raised £620,0000.
I will still continue to help raise funds and do talks. Maple retires on April 28, his 11th birthday, and the charity is actively seeking his successor. But I couldn’t give him up, so he will continue to live with me.
Treatment for hearing loss, such as surgery for cochlear implants has improved hugely. What has been its impact?
You are ‘switched on’ a few weeks after the operation and the first thing I did when I got back in my car was turn on the radio – I couldn’t believe I could hear the music so clearly. If anyone gets the chance to do this, I would say go for it. The surgery is straightforward, but you have to persevere as you learn to hear again. However, you are given lots of support.
What advice would you give people who are worried about their hearing?
I am now an advocate for Cochlear UK and enjoy meeting people who are about to have cochlear implant surgery to answer their questions. If anyone is beginning to struggle with their hearing, even with hearing aids, I would say go back to your audiologist and ask to be considered for the implant. When you struggle to hear, you can’t answer the phone, listen to music, go to the cinema or parties. That was my life, and suddenly, following my cochlear implants, all that has changed. I am now living in a totally new world.
For more information, visit iwanttohear.com