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Mark Leekoff’s Story

June 4th, 2011 by | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Mark Leekoff at the age of three years old when he first received his cochlear implant.

Mark Leekoff at the age of three years old when he first received his cochlear implant.

Mark Leekoff first received his cochlear implant at the age of three years old in 1989 as part of the clinical trials.

“He will probably never talk or communicate with hearing people,” the audiologist grimly told my parents when I was eighteen months old.  After anguishing over my diagnosis, however, they were determined to give me every opportunity to learn, speak and participate fully in the hearing world.  To this day, I am indebted to my parents for finding physicians whose knowledge and expertise have been so invaluable to me.  I have been surrounded by a team of professionals who have helped ensure that I would grow up to be a self-sufficient adult.  Thus, my own aspiration is to attend medical school and become a physician, dedicated to caring for people and helping them overcome such obstacles in their lives.

My hearing loss has also given me a different perspective into the field of medicine.  Firsthand, I have experienced the success of modern medicine and the technological advancements that enable me to benefit from a cochlear implant.  Because I was born with a hearing loss, I was unfamiliar with sounds.  Even though I was only two years old when my device was turned on, I can still remember the fear I felt as the audiologist activated my implant.  I cried and ran into my mother’s arms, wanting her to make it stop.  On that day, the audiologist told my parents that it was as if I was a newborn, hearing sounds for the first time.  I knew that something was different, however, and that I had to learn how to interpret these new sounds.  Each day was a new adventure, filled with sounds so many others take for granted.

Today, my mode of communication is enhanced by my lip reading skills, amplification, and my ability to speak orally.  Sign language also allows me to communicate with the deaf population.  As a result, I have a greater ability to alleviate frustrations for patients who might not otherwise be understood, allowing me to greatly assist those undergoing life-threatening illnesses.  I am certain these characteristics will only deepen the compassion I already have for my patients through a greater sense of empathy.

Due to my background, I am interested in the field of otology, and have been doing research in this area, working in the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience and Cognition at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.  In the summer of 2006, I worked on research that involved examining the effects of tinnitus on the rearrangement of frequencies in the auditory cortex. In the summer of 2007, I assisted in developing research, exploring a possible causality between recipients of cochlear implants and the occurrence of tinnitus, which often affects people with a profound hearing loss.  Although I have experienced it myself, wearing my implant alleviates the symptoms.  I hope that my work will help researchers address this issue, as advancements are made in the technological capabilities of the implant.  This past summer, I worked in conjunction with Dr. Diego Preciado who is an Otolaryngologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C.  I observed various surgeries, including cochlear implants and counseled families prior to their child’s implant surgery.

Presently, I am finishing a two-year MPH program at Drexel University School of Public Health, besides working on an externship at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia working with Louise Montoya evaluating an early intervention support program for the deaf and hard of hearing.

As ever, it is my goal to become a physician and continue working in a field dedicated to the health and well being of others.  I will be attending medical school this fall and I hope to achieve my dream of becoming an Otolaryngologist.


June 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I am loving all these stories Rachel! Thank you so much for sharing.


June 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Thank you, Tammy! There will be several more stories coming in the next several days!


June 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm

These stories are very inspiring, I really enjoy reading them! Mark’s story about going to medical school is awesome and best of luck to him and everyone in their future endeavors!

Li's Mom

October 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm

What an amazing story! I just came across Mel’s link to this article online, too:

Any chance you could publish a little bit more about educational placement? Raising a young bilaterally implanted child, I’m eager to find out the educational backgrounds people have chosen — what worked, what they’d change, if anything. Was this a case of AVT, then full inclusion; AVT, then mainstream with resource room for some classes, speech, etc.; just plain mainstream all the way with speech throughout; or oral deaf school, then mainstream, and so on? Thanks!!