Oticon Alta

My Platinum Series High-Focus Electrode Implant

I haven't always been deaf. When I was thirty-something, during the winter of 1967-68 our chimney plugged, and carbon monoxide (CO) entered our home every time the gas furnace came on. Living in North Dakota, that's pretty often! By February, when we discovered the problem, we were all sick, but, luckily, not dead.

A few years later it was obvious I wasn't hearing well. A visit to the speech and hearing clinic confirmed it. After hearing my history of carbon monoxide poisoning (my blood CO level on a day I felt fine was 23, whereas 18 is usually considered fatal!!) the audiologists suggested that my hearing loss was probably caused by oxygen deprivation impacting my inner ears (Our four children also have hearing problems, which tends to confirm the theory.).

My next stop was the rehabilitation center, where I was fitted with behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids. I also received a lesson in lip-reading from my audiologist there. I practiced a lot, especially on television newscasters. I learned to do a lot of guessing from the context of the sounds I was hearing! But my husband learned to laugh pretty often when the answers I gave bore no relation to the questions he asked.

By the early 1980s I graduated to two in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids, which were more advanced and gave me more help. In the 1990s I was lecturing to large groups of students on the topic ''Introduction to Computers'' at the University of North Dakota. I was having trouble hearing questions from students beyond the second row. The first digital hearing aids were coming on the market at that time and I tried them. At that time, the differences between analog and digital circuits were day and night, but the differences in the hearing perceptions, to me, were not significant, and I bought a new pair of analog units.

One of my computer books had an article about cochlear implants. I called the manufacturer but was told I'd never qualify -- because I could talk to them on the telephone. Nonetheless, they sent me some literature. I read through it, but was not thrilled with their ''state of the art'' technology at the time (early 90s).

I was really limited while using the telephone - only the old AT & T phones with amplifiers worked for me. In fact, I still use that old phone. My daughter is a computer software engineer in Virginia. She got so upset with my not being able to understand her on the phone that she too, started to search for answers. She found a cochlear implant manufacturer, Advanced Bionics in California. At her request, they sent me literature and a videotape. Their state of the art cochlear implant impressed and intrigued us. My husband called them. They encouraged us to consider a Clarion implant. They thought I sounded like a good candidate.

We found an ear surgeon, Dr. JF, and an audiologist MF, in Fargo, ND, just 75 miles from our home.

After consulting with physician and the audiologist, I passed the audiology criteria of Clarion and Medicare. I could understand vowels, but consonants were a guessing game. The high-focus electrode was in the final states of obtaining FDA approval, and the audiologist suggested we go to the University of Minnesota-Fairview Hospital in Minneapolis MN where the high-focus trials were taking place.

After spending a day at the clinic in Minneapolis, including psychological tests, CAT scans, and interviews, I was given final approval, and surgery was scheduled for July 31, 2000. In the meantime, the high-focus FDA approval was finalized so I would not be part of the test group, meaning I could have all my mapping session done in Fargo, a savings of more than 500 miles per trip!

Since I had only about 10% hearing in each ear, with virtually no difference between them, I decided to have the right ear implanted, taking advantage of the fact that the right ear is tuned more to speech, leaving the left to music and environmental sounds.

When the time came for my initial activation, August 24, MB, a clinical specialist with Advanced Bionics (she was instrumental in developing the mapping program for the Platinum Series) came from Denver to assist. I was to be one of the first patients hooked-up to the high-focus electrode Platinum hardware. After a very quiet three weeks, I was hearing again. But understanding? Hardly!

I practiced. It occurred to me that if I talked out loud to myself, I would know what words I said, and my brain might make the connection between the words and the sounds. Yes! That worked pretty well and I still do it. Another trick I used was to listen to talking books over my BOSE sound system.

Book narrators enunciate very clearly, and again, it helps make the connection between sound and meaning. I went back to the TV newscasters - this time with the sound on - they enunciate well and they face the camera, I could combine lip-reading and meaning to find words to connect with sounds. I was hearing.

One of my resources was Beverly Biderman's book Wired for Sound. Another resource which was very useful, with lots of information about hearing, was the audiotape Mozart as Healer by Don Campbell.

In fact, I collected all of my Mozart CDs and a CD player and took them to the hospital with me. I had a monaural earphone and played Mozart most of the time I was there. I still listen to classical music and I am hearing more and more of the high frequencies. I am also doing better with television, especially narrated programs like those on the History and Discovery channels. Sports events have too much intentional background noise for me to decipher what the commentators are saying, however.

I still have trouble hearing in noise and in crowds. I hear, but do not understand. Close conversations within my range are fine. Interestingly, I do best in the car, because it is an enclosed space and sound waves cannot escape. It also is very well insulated so there is little background noise.

An interesting and happy side effect of my implant is an alleviation of migraine headaches. I have had frequent migraines since I was a young girl, sometimes lasting as long as a week to ten days. Since my cochlear implant I've not had a single migraine! I also had a tendency toward sinus headaches. They, too, have diminished in frequency and intensity to almost nothing. Two daughters-in-law in medical fields suggested that it might be the magnet, or just having my skull drilled, a la ancient Egyptian practices!

I had been warned prior to surgery that I would waken with ''the worst headache you've ever had'' - that also didn't happen. I was completely comfortable, without even post-anesthesia nausea. I had requested lots of oxygen, which I was given, and that may have had its desired effect.

Overall, I'm glad I have the implant. I anticipate that my hearing will improve over time, although I realize it will never be complete. I will always give funny answers to some questions.

Visit www.bionicear.com for more information about Advanced Bionics.

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