Dancing to the rhythm

16th January 2019

Last weekend viewers of BBC show The Greatest Dancer were wowed by deaf dancer and meningitis survivor Chris Fonseca

Deaf dancer Chris Fonseca blog

Chris, who was introduced on the Saturday night programme by brother Israel, contracted meningitis as a baby and now has a cochlear implant to help him hear.

Jules Braithwaite, Senior Designer for Meningitis Now, also has an implant so was particularly thrilled to see Chris’s stunning performance. Here she tells us what it’s like to “hear” music in this way:

“Seeing Chris Fonseca on BBC1’s The Greatest Dancer last week was so inspiring. It was great to see the profile of meningitis and deafness being raised."

“The reaction to Chris’ appearance resonated with me as I lost my hearing to meningitis twenty-five years ago, aged fourteen. Even though I couldn’t hear I continued to go to music events/dances as, like Chris, I could feel the music as vibrations through my body."                                                                                                                                   

“Ten years later, when I was 24, I had a cochlear implant. This is an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants actually do the work of the damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) providing sound signals to the brain. It completely by-passes the normal hearing mechanism and stimulates the auditory nerve directly by means of an internally implanted electrode array."

“The externally worn ‘sound processor’ captures sound and turns it into digital code. It then transmits the digitally-coded sound through a coil to the implant located just under the skin. The implant converts the digitally-coded sound into electrical signals and sends them along the electrode array, which is positioned in the cochlea. These electrodes stimulate the cochlea’s auditory nerve fibres, which relay the sound signals to the brain to produce hearing sensations."

“As I had a perfect memory of sound before the implant, what I ‘hear’ with it now does seem ‘normal’ to me. Everyone who has an implant ‘hears’ differently though, as we each have a unique ‘mapping’ of the electrode array for pitch and volume."

“Being able to ‘hear’ music via the implant, as well as feeling it, means I appreciate it in more depth."

“As Chris proves, even if you’ve had meningitis, you can still achieve greatness and reach your dreams. So never give up.”

Did you know: Hearing loss is one of the most common after-effects of bacterial meningitis. Approximately one in ten children who survive bacterial meningitis develop deafness as a result of the illness. Find out more about meningitis and hearing loss here.