Cochlea transplant gives golfer new outlook

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Cochlea transplant gives golfer new outlook

The sound of wind, the cheering of the crowd and the “swoosh” of a driver swung through the air are all sounds most golfers take for granted. But it is something professional golfer Lee Sung-man - also known as Lee Sung on the Asian Tour - is experiencing for the first time in his life.

The 31-year-old is a card-carrying member of the KPGA and Asian Tour. He had a hearing disability before a December operation restored hearing in his left ear - he still cannot hear out of his right ear, which will go under operation in the near future.

Lee has been a different person since the surgery. In mid-December, Lee placed third overall at the Black Mountain Masters tournament, an Asian Tour event held in Thailand from Dec. 16 to Dec. 19.

Observers at the tournament said he was more sociable, unlike at past events where he would mostly keep to himself.

Lee’s father said he is still uncomfortable, but is starting to share his innermost feelings more freely.

“I was blown away by a news report that Kim Dong-hyun, a deaf national bobsled team member, had a successful cochlea transplant,” said Lee Kang-keun, the golfer’s father. “We went to see a doctor soon after.”

The surgery took more than three hours and for days all Lee heard were beeps. Then exactly four days after the surgery, Lee began to hear people talking around him.

In the past, Lee had to read lips, which caused him to become temperamental when he had trouble communicating.

“Since I can now hear the impact of my swings, the distance on my shots has improved,” said Lee.

“In the past, I had to rely on instincts, but I can now get a gauge on the direction and distance of my shots based on the impact sound of my swings.”

Hearing has also presented a host of new challenges.

He noticed at the Black Mountain Masters event that he was able to hear crowd noise and camera shutters - which was a distraction.

His solution is to simply switch off his artificial cochlea when he requires absolute concentration.

Lee prefers to have the sound on when using his iron and when he is on the green.

“I’m really happy to be able to hear,” said Lee. “I want to thank Dr. Choi Jae-young at Sinchon Severance Hospital for giving me a new lease on life.”

Lee departed for overseas training on Dec. 30 and is set to return this month for the start of the Asian Tour season.

The artificial cochlea transplant was conducted at Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital in Sinchon, western Seoul, and Lee will go under the knife to restore hearing in his left ear by the end of the year.


By Jung Jae-won [jason@joongang.co.kr]
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