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The laughing mannequin symbolizes the atmosphere Kim Miles tries to create at The Ugly Sister Boutique, located at 419 Second St. in downtown Hudson. "Life is too serious. None of us laughs enough anymore," Miles says. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)

Boutique owner expects to regain hearing with cochlear implant

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Life River Falls,Wisconsin 54022
Hudson Star Observer
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Boutique owner expects to regain hearing with cochlear implant
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Kim Miles doesn't want people coming to The Ugly Sister Boutique because they feel sorry for her.

While the apparel and gift shop in downtown Hudson came about because of her loss of hearing, it isn't about her hearing, she says.


And now, after receiving a cochlear implant at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, on May 29, Miles expects to soon be able to understand voices through her once deaf left ear.

She already hears sounds through it. They're so loud that the volume of the device is turned down, and she has it on just four or five hours a day.

This week, she started online speech therapy classes to learn how to hear through the cochlear implant.

"Everybody has the misunderstanding that they plug it in, you put the magnet on, you can hear. And that's not it," says Miles. "You have to be taught how to hear with it."

Her hope is that within a couple of months she will be able to participate in meetings of the Downtown Retail Committee of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce.

Miles woke up to nearly complete silence one morning in January 2012.

The sudden 100-percent deafness in her left ear was caused by Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that often affects women in their 40s and 50s.

Miles also had lost hearing in her right ear, but not as rapidly or as much. Today, she has about 20 percent hearing in her right ear, she says. She is able to hear as much as she does because of a powerful hearing aid behind her right ear.

At the time of her sudden deafness, Miles was the business manager for a hotel chain, in charge of 51 hotel properties. But she was unhappy in her job because of a new "mean" boss and the travel that required her to be on the road Monday through Friday.

Unable to continue in her position because of the inability to communicate with hotel owners and managers, she resigned from the corporate job.

Miles says she went through three or four months of depression, and then her best friend, Deb Swiontek, told her it was time to stop feeling sorry for herself and open the fashion boutique she had always talked about.

"I didn't think I could, because I couldn't hear," Miles says, "and she said, well, I'll help you."

Prior to her corporate job, Miles owned two hair salons for 17 years. She and her husband, David, a home inspector for the Metropolitan Council in St. Paul, also owned and operated a bed and breakfast inn for six years.

The couple moved from Osceola to the town of Hudson in 2007 after the youngest of their three adult children was out of college.

"I always knew I wanted to do a store in Hudson, because the downtown is wonderful," Miles says. "People support downtown businesses."

Miles had her eye on the building at 419 Second St. and wrote a letter to the owners saying that if it ever became available she would like them to contact her.

She and David were vacationing in Budapest, Hungary, last October when she got an email with an offer to rent the shop. The morning after their return, she signed the lease.

After the sudden deafness in her left ear, Miles began seeing Dr. Meredith Adams, an otology and neurotology specialist at U of M Fairview.

When Miles' word recognition dropped to 40 percent in April, Dr. Adams was able to get approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to give her the cochlear implant.

The Advanced Bionics electronic device was implanted in a four-hour surgery. It includes a magnet, a six-inch-long wire along the skull and a coil that goes inside the cochlea of the ear.

Miles says there are 16 wires inside the cochlear device, and that all of them are working for her. For some people, only 10 or 12 of the wires produce sound.

Two weeks ago, Miles' cochlear implant was turned on for the first time. The sound was excruciatingly loud for someone who hadn't heard for a long time. The noise from the car blinker on the way home from the hospital made it feel like someone was pounding a nail into her head.

Because of that, the volume of the device is turned down for now, and will be increased gradually, allowing Miles to get used to it and eventually hear voices.

People's voices now sound like they're coming from a robot that has sucked helium, she says.

She's confident that it will improve.

"It's going to be a good thing," she says.

The large receiver she wears on her shoulder will be replaced in September by a little piece that goes behind her ear. The device is backordered.

"Hearing the cash register ring now with my cochlear is a wonderful sound, but the most wonderful sound -- and this is the honest truth -- is when we laugh," Miles says.

"None of us laughs enough anymore. Life is too serious. The economy is bad. Everything is bad, bad, bad. And so I thought if I'm going to do this (open The Ugly Sister), I want to do it with fun colors on the walls and funny signs and just make it a safe place where women can come in and laugh and have a good time."

Miles, 53, says she's always had an interest in fashion, going back to her youth in Rice Lake. When she was operating her hair salons, women would come in to see what she was wearing and talk about clothing.

In addition to affordably priced apparel, The Ugly Sister offers accessories, jewelry, unique gifts, greeting cards and drink mixes.

The boutique is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
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