Alex Brewer was not your average teenager.
He graduated from Perth’s Christ Church Grammar School a few years ago as Year 12 house prefect, and the recipient of two awards at the Valedictory Assembly.
He also broke new ground during his final school year when, as a 17-year-old, he became the world’s first adolescent recipient of a new magnetically attached bone conduction implant at Ear Science Institute Australia. Born with microtia, a congenital deformity that occurs in 1 out of 8,000-10,000 people where the pinna (external ear) is underdeveloped, in Alex’s case it is microtia grade II where the ear is partially developed with a closed external ear canal producing a conductive hearing loss.
Alex’s hearing loss is described as asymmetrical or unilateral which is well known in making basic hearing a difficult task. Asymmetrical hearing loss also makes it more difficult to determine the direction, distance and movement of sound sources. People with single-sided deafness have reported to perceive a greater handicap than those with hearing loss in both ears.
It’s not hard to imagine the challenges associated with this type of hearing loss and the impact imposed on the lifestyle of a young man. Regardless, and quite extraordinarily, Alex found his circumstances as an opportunity to contribute. Winthrop Professor Marcus Atlas, Ear Science Institute Australia Director, who performed Alex’s implant surgery, said anyone involved with patient care is aware that people are often full of surprises—and to him this is one of the pleasures of being a treating physician.
“Alex certainly has been a surprise when, through the course of his final school year that coincided with his hearing implant, he took steps to engage his Christ Church Grammar community to raise funds for ESIA,” Professor Atlas said.
Alex appealed to Christ Church Grammar School to let him hold a ‘free dress day’ fundraiser and, with their subsequent encouragement, presented to the school assembly about his personal story. Alex received great support from the school and his peers, many of whom participated in the fundraising drive where he raised in excess of $1000 for Ear Science. It was the most the school has ever raised from a free dress day. Alex said Christ Church Grammar School had been of great support with his hearing and learning difficulties, helping him to make the best of the situations he faced since starting there in Year 5.
When it came to his hearing implant, the hopes Alex hoped simply highlight the day-to-day effect of his hearing impairment.
“I’d been looking forward most to renting The Blues Brothers movie (that doesn’t have sub-titles), listening to music properly, feeling more confident to socialise with peers and shedding some of the social isolation that comes with hearing problems,” he said.
Alex noted it was initially "a bit of a shock" to hear every day noises like traffic and an air-conditioner but is getting used to the sounds of the world around him.
“I am very grateful to the Ear Ssience to receive an implant and being able to hear fully for the first time in my life. I’m also grateful to have had an extraordinary school that helped me gain great friends, an exceptional education and taught me to make the best of opportunities and to give back to the less fortunate,” he said.
On the day Alex went into Ear Science Institute Australia to have his implant ‘switched on’, one month after the surgery, he presented Professor Atlas with a cheque for the funds he had raised with his school. Ear Science and Ear Science Clinic are very grateful to Alex, the Brewer family and the Christ Church Grammar School community for their unexpected and most welcomed support.