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Winter 2001
THE GIFT
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Deaf since childhood, Lara and Michael wall came to UCLA for a chance at hearing the sound of each other's voice

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Judy Lin-Eftekhar

LARA WALL NEVER HEARD HER HUSBAND, MICHAEL, TELL HER, "I LOVE YOU."

She never heard music. Never heard the tittering of birds or the roar of the ocean. She never heard her own child's laughter. Lara Wall has lived in a world of utter silence for 36 years, since infancy, when a raging fever destroyed her hearing.

But all that she has known and all that she has never known will change on this sunny, warm mid-November morning. Lara and Michael, who also has been deaf since childhood, have driven from their home in Ridgecrest, Calif., along with daughter Krystle and Lara's parents, Bud and Shirley Childs, to the audiology clinic at UCLA Medical Center.

They have come for a gift. Sitting side by side, Lara and Michael converse excitedly in sign language. Nearby, audiologist Stanton Jones clicks away at a computer, preparing to switch on the cochlear implant that UCLA surgeon Akira Ishiyama placed in Lara's right ear five weeks ago. Michael also received an implant and his also will be turned on later this day.

Jones positions a plastic-encased magnet, the transmitting coil, on Lara's scalp directly above the implant. He then loops the curved microphone over her ear. A thin wire drapes over her shoulder to the cell phone-sized speech processor resting in her lap.

"Ready?" Jones asks Lara, a question translated into sign language for her by interpreter Anita Anderson.

"I don't know," Lara signs nervously in response. She glances at Michael, then back to Jones. She signs, "Yes, I'm ready."

Cupping one hand over the magnet to keep it in place, her other hand reaches for Michael, wrapping her fingers around his.

"Relax," Jones says.

Lara smiles and eases back a little in her chair. She stares straight ahead, and purses her lips.

"Hear anything?" Jones asks.

Her forehead creases. "I think ... a little," she signs.

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