Entries in Cochlear Implant (2)


With Hearing Implants, Experiencing Sound for the First Time

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After being born severely hearing-impaired, Sarah Churman heard her first clear sound at age 29 and promptly burst into tears.

“I hear Melinda say, “How does it sound?” Churman wrote in her memoir, Powered On, about the experience. “I start to answer her, and I realize I can hear the noises in my mouth. Then I realize how I sound. Then I get choked up. Then I laugh. Then that sends me into a fit of tears and choking up.”

Churman received cochlear implants at age 29. A video of her implants being turned on for the first time went viral in 2011.

Cochlear implants, which help people hear by electronically simulating the auditory nerve, have been used by 30,000 people worldwide, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Society.

With the spread of cochlear implants, videos of deaf people hearing for the first time have become a staple on such video sites as YouTube and Vimeo, garnering millions of views.

In the video shot by her husband, Churman lights up when she hears the noise for the first time and then quickly starts crying and laughing as she says, “This is weird.”

But what is it really happening when people gain a new sense?

The cochlear implant is not a replacement for an ear, but it can help many people who were effectively declared deaf. By stimulating the auditory nerve, signals are transmitted to the brain, which turns into “hearing.”

Although Churman wrote that she loved hearing and her cochlear implants, Dr. Daniel Lee, director of the Pediatric Ear, Hearing and Balance center at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said many other adults sometimes describe the sound as metallic or robotic at first.

“[Usually you] are communicating through thousands of channels of information that are being sent to your brain,” said Lee. “These implants have no more than 22 electrodes.”

Lee said that the implants are key for many children or infants born with severe hearing loss who receive the devices so that they can grow up with auditory skills and have stronger language skills.

Doctors, however, have to be careful when exposing small children to sound for the first time. Since the children often do not have the means to communicate, doctors have to be very careful that the children have a positive experience and aren’t frightened by their new sense.

Lee said the key is to keep the electronic data to a minimum in the beginning of using the implant.
“[You] don’t want to overwhelm them,” said Lee. “Over a period of days to weeks to months [the implant] is slowly ramped up to provide more information to the ear or the brain.”

In videos usually a family member speaks to the child for the first time. In one memorable video an infant responds to hearing his mother’s voice by dropping his pacifier and looking at her in awe.

While cochlear implants have significantly helped people who were previously profoundly deaf, they do not work for people who either lacked an auditory nerve or had a damaged nerve.

But new technology is now being used that sends messages directly to the brain itself. A Food and Drug Administration clinical trial currently underway is looking at the effectiveness of electrical implants placed directly on the brain stem.

Placed directly on the brain stem, it bypasses all auditory nerves.

Grayson Clamp made headlines earlier this week for becoming the first child in the U.S. to receive the procedure.

Lee, who is involved in the trials but not in Grayson’s case, said that the auditory brain stem implants could be used to help deaf children communicate and develop lip reading skills. He said once children like Grayson are older, they can see how effective the devices are by evaluating their language skills.

But even before the implants can be measured and quantified, Grayson’s immediate response delighted his father, Lee Clamp.

“It was phenomenal to see him take that sound in and try to figure out what in the world is this? I’ve never had this sensation before,’” said Clamp.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Deaf 10-Year-Old Regains Hearing with Cochlear Implant

ABC News(DALLAS) -- The sound of Sammie Hicks's own breathing moved her to tears three weeks ago.

That's because it was the first time she ever heard it.

"I started to cry because it was overwhelming," 10-year-old Sammie told ABC affiliate WFAA. "I had no idea what the sounds were."

Born with a genetic mutation that caused her to lose her hearing as a toddler, Sammie was fitted with a cochlear implant – a kind of bionic ear that simulates hearing – and documented the process in an online video diary over the past several months.

In a video posted Wednesday from her home in Collin County, Texas, Sammie mimes robot arms and flashes a braces-clad smile when her mother asks what the implants sound like to her. The implants don't exactly mimic hearing, so Sammie thinks voices sound like robots.

Unlike a hearing aid, which amplifies existing sounds, the cochlear implant is designed to directly stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged part of the ear. First, an implant is surgically placed beneath the skin. Three weeks later, it is turned on and works with an earpiece to process sounds and stimulate the nerve.

"When a cochlear implant is turned on, people will hear things they've never heard before," said Dr. Jennifer Smullen, who has performed hundreds of implant surgeries at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. "It's like someone who really needed glasses, put them on and realized they were missing the sunset."

Hicks's new favorite activity is taking long walks outside so she can listen to the birds, her mother, Jenifer, told ABC News. Other sounds are more annoying, on the other hand, like the air conditioner and the sound of her classmates turning pages.

"She wasn't expecting school to be quite so loud," Jenifer said. "She can hear everyone eating their snacks and writing on paper. And she can hear them breathing."

Sammie's younger brother, 9, went deaf "rapidly" over the last two years and just had the same cochlear implant surgery, Jenifer said. His implants will be turned on June 7.

"When we brought him home from surgery, she broke down in tears because she knew what he was going through," Jenifer said. "She wouldn't leave his side."

In Wednesday's video diary entry, Jenifer asked Sammie if she had any advice for her brother.

"After it gets turned on, it's not going to be what you expected, of course," Sammie said. "If you jump around, the thing will fall off."

Sammie's brain learns how to process the information from the implants every day, Smullen explained. And as she learns, she'll update her video diary and share new sounds with the world.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio