Teacher helping deaf kids after her own hearing loss

May 18th, 2022 5:45 PM

By Emma Connolly

Julie with her surgeon at the American Hospital of Tbilisi.

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A SKIBBEREEN-based teacher who traumatically went temporarily deaf in one ear is now fundraising to help kids in the same situation. 

Julie Connolly has worked as a science teacher for the past 20 years – mostly in overseas international schools – in the UK, Kuwait, Malaysia, UAE, South Korea, Cayman Islands, Tanzania, Oman, Ireland and Georgia.

Most recently she’s been working in Tbilisi, Georgia where last month she suddenly lost her hearing in her right ear. 

‘I went to Gudauri in Georgia for a day trip – it’s a ski-resort in the Caucasus Mountains. The next day, I had some nasal/ear congestion.

‘I was prescribed some ear-drops, which I used in my right ear and immediately I experienced sudden deafness, tinnitus and loss of feeling around my ear (face and head). I had a rare hypersensitivity reaction to the ear-drops,’ she explained. 

Navigating unfamiliar medical systems was challenging, she said. 

‘Over a period of 10 days, I had appointments with 10 different clinicians – and my symptoms were worsening throughout this period,’ she recalls. 

She also developed vertigo, which at times left her unable to walk, aswell as distressing tinnitus.

‘I took steps to get an online consultation with Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, and also contacted medical providers in Ireland for advice. I was advised not to travel back to Ireland, in case the flight worsened the condition, but to seek emergency medical treatment in Tbilisi.

‘I had emergency medical treatment at the American Hospital of Tbilisi (AHT) in the ENT and Neurology departments,’ she said. 

Throughout, Julie was very sensitive to noise, and using the city’s Metro was challenging as was taking taxis. 

‘With only one ear functioning, it was not possible to locate where sounds were coming from. It was disorientating. In school, I couldn’t work out which students were speaking – as they were still wearing masks due to Covid restrictions. It also triggered my asthma – I had a couple of asthma attacks whilst out in the supermarket and bank,’ she said.  

Julie returned to Ireland in the past few weeks and has since received treatment at CUH. 

Her hearing isn’t perfect, but it is improving, but her tinnitus is still distressing. 

‘The Skibbereen Medical Centre and Hamilton’s Pharmacy have been very supportive,’ she said.  

Originally from the UK she moved to Skibbereen three years ago having seen the area on the Graham Norton show. She hopes to return to Georgia next month. 

Now she’s focussed on raising awareness of sudden hearing loss and is fundraising to support the work of the surgical team who undertake surgeries, cochlea implants, for deaf children in Tbilisi Georgia. 

‘I also wrote a children’s book called Archie, The Angel of Ears.  

‘If I can find a publisher, then I can donate any sales income to the fund,’ she said. 


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