Del Mar native overcomes hearing loss, receives scholarship to pursue medical career

Del Mar native Victoria Popov, 22, was recently awarded the Graeme Clark Scholarship from Cochlear Limited, the global leader in implantable hearing solutions.

Born deaf, a whole new world opened up for Popov when she received cochlear implants at ages 8 and 17. The Canyon Crest Academy graduate is now a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, majoring in biomedical science with a minor in psychology. Popov said the scholarship represents an investment in her education as she aims to continue on and become an otolaryngologist (ENT), inspired to help others after her own experiences.

Popov received her scholarship on Feb. 19 in Orlando, Fla., at the closing ceremonies of a four-day Cochlear Celebration, a convention attended by hundreds of cochlear recipients and their families and the four other winners of the Graeme Clark Scholarship.

The scholarship is named after Dr. Graeme Clark, the inventor and pioneer of the multichannel cochlear implant.

“It is an honor to recognize these incredible young people who have demonstrated grit and tenacity in both their academic and personal lives while making the most of Cochlear’s hearing technology,” said Tony Manna, president of Cochlear North America. “As Cochlear implant recipients, these students are not only leaders in their communities today but will also be bright stars in the industry they choose to join tomorrow.”

Popov was born completely deaf but as there was no screening at that time for babies, her parents didn’t know she was deaf until she was 18 months old.

Popov said her parents were unsure about her hearing ability as sometimes she would respond to them and sometimes she wouldn’t—Popov said they later learned that when she did respond, she was likely responding to the vibrations of the sound.

She spent years wearing hearing aids and getting by at school by lip reading but, at age 8, then a student at Del Mar Heights Elementary School, she received her first cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants are different from hearing aids, which only amplify sound.

The implant consists of an external sound processor and an internal implant that is surgically placed underneath the skin, behind the ear. The implant is attached to an electrode inserted into the cochlea to help patients hear. When sound is captured by the sound processor behind the ear, the sound is converted to digital information which is transmitted to the internal implant, sending sound signals to the brain.

“I was able to pick up on sounds more crisp and clear,” Popov said of the life-changing implant. “I was able to hear the birds chirping for the first time.”

She received her second cochlear implant at age 17, to help with sound localization.

“I didn’t realize what I was missing out on,” Popov said of life before the cochear implant. “I couldn’t tell if someone was speaking to me from behind. I did a lot of lip reading and the sounds I heard didn’t have the fine details I got with the implant. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

She said while she will never fully hear like a fully hearing person, the difference is extraordinary and her limitations are few — she said it can sometimes be challenging hearing a phone conversation if she’s in a noisy environment. It’s amazing to her to consider how far technology has come and she is inspired by what might be possible in the next 20 years.

Popov took the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) last year and plans to take it again before applying to medical school next year. In her gap year, she plans to complete her master’s degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Rochester.

“It makes me excited to think about what I can do in the audiology field,” Popov said.