Jack Kelly checks a swimmer’s airways to see if they are clear before performing CPR.
Jack Kelly checks a swimmer’s airways to see if they are clear before performing CPR. Nicholas Falconer

Living normally all in a day's work

JACK Kelly heard the call of the surf lifesaving movement two years ago, joining Dicky Beach Surf Club.

Although he had never been a nipper or learnt the surf rescue disciplines from an early age, he's managed to learn all about surf sports and become vice-captain of his patrol at the ripe old age of 18.

In the past two years, he has also learnt how to surf and pass all the requirements for his boat licence.

All very impressive, but Jack's greatest achievement has been to learn how to hear again.

At age one, Jack was declared deaf after contracting a viral infection.

At two, he was the youngest person in Australia to receive a cochlear implant: a surgically-implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound.

At 11, he was the first in Australia to have bi-lateral (both sides) cochlear implants.

But last year, he needed both implants replaced, forcing him to learn how to "hear" again.

No challenge, though, ever seems to prevent Jack from living a normal life.

Jack's mum Sue Kelly said he had always enjoyed sports and decided to join surf lifesaving after the family bought a house in Dicky Beach.

"The younger kids started nippers and Jack decided he wanted to do his bronze (medallion)," Mrs Kelly said.

After receiving approval from Dicky Beach Surf Club, Jack quickly completed his bronze medallion training and began patrolling while he continued to attain other qualifications including his ATV (all terrain vehicle) licence, IRB crewman and Operational First Aid.

Mrs Kelly said he was profoundly deaf on patrol because he could not wear his implants then.

Jack said the implants needed to be replaced because they had been slowly failing.

"Because one of the implants had been in my head since I was two, it was covered in bone growth, so they had to do a lot of drilling to get it out," he said.

"The main reason for my concern was that just because implants had worked for me before, there are no guarantees that the new ones would work as well or even work at all.

"Also, you can't tell if the operation is successful until the implant is actually switched on and that does not happen for about a week after the operation.

"Thankfully both mine switched on and I could hear sounds immediately which slowly turned into words."

The new implants were created with different technology, which Jack said made all the words sound different to what he had become used to.

"I had to go back to doing a lot of listening exercises every day until I could understand what I was hearing, but it's all good now," he said.

The dedicated surf lifesaver said this probably would not be the last time he would need new implants.

"The implants don't last a lifetime so I'll probably be re-implanted a few more times during my life," he said.

"That's not a bad thing as the technology gets better all the time.

"Another positive is, if I really don't want to listen to something or someone, I can just switch the off button."

Despite being warned of some balance issues after the operation, Jack has learnt to surf and says he loves hitting the water with his dad and siblings on the weekend.

The keen athlete, who has also competed in swimming at a national level, said surf lifesaving had become a family activity.

"My dad is on the same patrol as me, and my sister was until she left for the defence force two weeks ago," he said.

"Next season, my younger brother will be joining my patrol as an SRC (surf rescue certificate) member."

Jack has managed to achieve great things and compete despite a condition which could have stopped him and he plans to continue living a normal life.

He has almost completed his carpentry apprenticeship and hopes to have his building licence soon.

He will also continue in surf sports and is looking forward to getting his IRB driver licence.

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