Receiving a cochlear implant isn’t simply about hearing. For some people, like Kara Johnson of Feilding, the impact of the surgery is about self-confidence, independence, and, ultimately, empowerment. Kara is 32 years old and the mother of three children – Connor (11), Sofia (8) and Tilly (3).

Kara Johnson and her children – Connor, Tilly and Sofia.

This young family is reunited in safety and security under one roof now after Kara’s cochlear implant gave her the courage to seek help from Women’s Refuge and end a violent relationship.

“After I got my cochlear implant, I gained back my confidence and I felt I was able to be self-reliant. I was able to leave that abusive relationship and the last two years have been a lot better,” Kara says.

She describes her hearing impairment as creating difficulties when she was interacting in social gatherings. Kara talks of being a vulnerable victim who relied heavily on her partner to fill in parts of conversations she was missing, which led to her feeling like she couldn’t survive without his help. Once she ended that relationship, Kara was able to get custody of her son and life is very positive with her three children. She had a lot of short-term jobs in her 20s, particularly when her previous partner created barriers to employment. Now she’s been working steadily at The Warehouse this year.

“It’s been the longest I have had a job for and it’s been great,” Kara says. She’s ambitious and her goal is to go to Massey University to study to be a social worker for children.

“If people are on the fence about the cochlear implant surgery, I want them to know it was the best decision I could’ve made,” Kara says. “I do believe if I had not had the surgery, I would still be in the most horrific relationship ever.”

Kara acknowledges the amazing support she has had from her parents, Palmerston North City Councillor Lorna Johnson and Massey University Veterinary Neurophysiology Professor Craig Johnson. She was adopted in England when she was five years old and the family emigrated to New Zealand when she was 10. She understands that her hearing was affected by untreated ear infections when she was a child in the foster care system. Her hearing continued to deteriorate throughout her life.

Kara relied on a hearing aid and lip reading and taught herself to talk well through a love of reading, despite not enjoying her years at primary or high school. When she looks back at her switch-on it is the sound of her then baby daughter Tilly’s laughter that stands out.

“I now feel I don’t miss so much with the kids and we all connect more,” she says. Kara’s been in a happy new relationship with Henry for seven months.

Her gratitude for the difference her implant has made in her life extends to sharing her harrowing previous relationship experience in case it will help someone else.