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Implants Bring Back Hearing - And Joy

Teacher’s Hearing Restored

Cheryl McCoy can’t pinpoint what caused her hearing loss, but years of teaching physical education in noisy gyms is one likely culprit. As her hearing faded, the vibrant 65-year-old from Sycamore, Illinois, became more withdrawn. Today, she is back to enjoying the joyful noise of an active life following cochlear implant surgery at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.

Cheryl first noticed she was struggling to hear in noisy environments. Over the course of about five years, her hearing loss progressed to the point where she couldn’t use the phone, hear the TV or follow conversations at the dinner table. Then, she lost all hearing.

“It was a difficult, depressing and isolating time,” says Cheryl. “I am an active and social person, but suddenly people were ignoring me because they couldn’t figure out how to communicate with me.”

When other medical interventions failed, Cheryl elected to undergo cochlear implant surgery. A cochlear implant is a prosthetic device that bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve to the brain, which translates the signals into sound.

“While people often think a cochlear device is only for those with profound hearing loss, the implant is also beneficial for those with significant hearing loss and poor word understanding,” says Andrew Fishman, MD, director of neurotology and cranial base surgery at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Hospital. “Restoring our patients’ ability to more effectively communicate and interact with the world around them provides tremendous benefit to their quality of life.”

During the outpatient procedure, an internal receiver/stimulator is implanted into the inner ear. A second piece, the speech processor and transmitter/coil, is worn on the outside. Each piece has a magnet. The two magnets attract across the skin, and communicate via radio signals sent across the skin.

The Latest Technology

Cochlear implants now have a waterproof option allowing patients to swim and enjoy water sports while wearing their device. And the latest cochlear implants are compatible with Bluetooth technology, which makes it easy for patients to stream from Bluetooth devices into their cochlear nerve.

“Patients have more access to the world with this new technology because they are able to stream phone calls, music, FaceTime, TV shows and movies directly to their implant wirelessly,” says Krystine Mullins, AuD, clinical audiologist at Central DuPage Hospital.

A year after surgery, Cheryl’s hearing was back to 88 percent and near 92 percent with a hearing aid.  According to Dr. Fishman, it may continue to improve as the brain continues to learn with the new technology.

“My friends and family are amazed at my hearing level now and most people don’t know I have an implant since my hair hides it,” says Cheryl. “Music sounds slightly different, and I’m not back to 100 percent, but I’m thrilled to hear the sound of my twin grandbabies as they learn to talk. It is profoundly life-changing.”

Featured Experts

Andrew J. Fishman, MD
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