KOCHI: The baby girl is 11 months old. Born deaf, a cochlear implant has been put in her ear through surgery. Inside a room at a hospital in Kochi is former Australian cricketer Brett Lee, the doctor, a couple of nurses and a few onlookers. The doctor now switches on the implant. For a moment, there is pin-drop silence. Brett stares intently at the baby. Suddenly, the child starts crying. And Brett immediately breaks out into a wide smile.
The reason the baby cries is that the sound she hears is overwhelming after 11 months of complete silence. “I have seen quite a few switch-on and it is such a happy moment,” says Brett. He had come on a visit to Kochi as the Global Hearing Ambassador for Cochlear India. “This has become a mission for me,” he says. “In India, there is a large number of children who suffer from deafness for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, even when parents are aware they do not do anything about it. They believe God will solve it, or some superstition will fix it and when their child reaches five years of age, he or she will be okay.”
To ensure deafness is identified early so that an effective cure can be done, a universal newborn screening test for the hearing has been set up all over the world. And Brett is so happy with the situation in Kerala. “In government hospitals, it is almost 100 per cent,” he says. “And that’s great. In other states, it is only 2 per cent.”
If there is early intervention, children can enjoy the sounds of everyday life. “It is also extremely important for the brain to be exposed to be sound from the very beginning for the overall development of the baby,” says Brett. He says he has met three girls who had been implanted when they were babies and now they are studying to be doctors, specialising in cochlear implants. “Isn’t that fantastic,” he says.
At 42, Brett radiates energy, positive vibrations and an infectious smile. It’s been four years since he retired from top-class cricket. Asked when the feeling of retirement hit home, Brett says, “When the next season rolled in, I noticed that the gear did not come out of the garage, and I was no longer going for net practice. But I have played the odd game just for fun. However, I do miss the adrenal rush of walking out to the ground, where one lakh people are cheering. I don’t think I will ever be able to replicate that rush of representing one’s country. But that’s life. You have to move on.”
Today, Brett is busy doing promotional activities, television commentary and taking part in charity work. And he keeps coming back to India because he has fallen in love with the country. “The people are very warm and hospitable,” he says. “They always make me feel welcome. Poor people at the front of a hotel or a village, they smile at you. And that makes your day. I have seen boys who use a piece of wood as a bat and play cricket but they look so happy. Those of us in affluent countries complain about little things, but the poor boy on the road who has nowhere to sleep can still smile so easily.”
What is amazing to see as he speaks is to see how fit he is: strong biceps and a flat stomach. Brett works out in the gym and notches up the kilometres on the treadmill. But he is still adjusting to the after-effects of an intensely physical career as a fast bowler, who took 690 wickets in Tests and one-dayers and was a World Cup winner in 2003.
“I have a bulging disc in my neck,” he says. “My elbow will never straighten again because I snapped my arm twice. I have had six ankle operations and broke my back twice. Am I one hundred per cent pain-free? No. But I am not complaining. I ignore the pain and carry on.” On August 11, Brett did a 14.5 km charity run in Sydney called ‘City2Surf’. What’s clear is that Brett is ensuring that his post-cricketing career is as fulfilling and successful.
Asked the difference between success and failure, Brett says, “One word: hunger. I was not the most talented player. There were so many more gifted players, but I had a hunger to succeed, along with great training and a disciplined work ethic. I listened to my parents. And I respected the game and had a lot of fun.” Interestingly, Brett did not come from a sporting family.
His father Bob is a metallurgist, while his mother Helen was a piano teacher. “But she was a 100m sprinter and won a few golds at the junior level,” he says. “I got my speed from her.” Soon, Brett is ready to get to speed once again for his cochlear campaign. The flight to Ahmedabad is just two hours away….
90 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents
Up to 5 out of every 1000 children are born or develop hearing loss in early childhood
Hearing loss is caused by infections, birth defects, the ageing process, head or ear injuries, reactions to drugs, and exposure to excessive noise