Oticon Alta

Rising Above Hearing Loss

For 42 years I lived a healthy life. During the winter of 1992, I became very ill. I had a temperature of 103 degrees, strep throat and ear infections. I was treated with antibiotics and within a few days returned to good health -- or so I thought.

Over a 3 month period of time, I noticed a change in my hearing. Once my hearing started to diminish, I also had problems with vertigo. I experienced vertigo (spinning sensations) without any provocation. It happened at work and at home. It left me completely debilitated and exhausted. Many times, I was so sick, all I could do was sleep. There were times I had to be driven home from my office because I could not pull out of the spin. Sometimes I couldn't see clearly and I perspired profusely. Many times I was so sick to my stomach - I could not stop vomiting. No one knew why it was happening.

I sought the help of an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. He recommended a hearing test and referred me to an audiologist who determined the hearing loss was only occurring in one ear. My doctor and audiologist were puzzled by this information and an MRI was ordered. Thankfully, the MRI was normal.

Everything remained stable for 8 years. I was able to hear well until 1999. I woke up one morning and could not hear clearly at all. Fear and panic overcame me. I found my way back to my doctors. They were completely puzzled with this rapid turn of events. I was referred to a neurotologist for further examination. I was started on steroid therapy with hopes of bringing back some of my hearing. I was losing hearing at a fast pace. I was willing to try anything to restore my hearing. Suddenly losing my hearing -- literally overnight -- was very frightening to me.

I was fitted with a completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aid in my right ear. My hearing stabilized and I went about living my life again. Six weeks later, I noticed another change in my hearing. Back to the doctor and more tests. I had to go to the next size larger hearing aid to allow more power for my right ear. The hearing aid was an in-the-ear (ITE) model, but larger and more powerful. For a few weeks, I was okay, but the same thing happened again, and I had to change hearing aids again. I went to the behind-the-ear (BTE) model, which is what I currently have.

I saw the neurotologist. I walked into his office with all my medical records in hand. After filling out mounds of paperwork, I was examined by the doctor. He spent almost 2 hours with me going over my medical history. He calmed my fears and assured me I could be helped. I started to believe there was light at the end of this dark tunnel. I was diagnosed with a bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss secondary to Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease.

When we finished, I had extensive hearing tests administered by the audiologist. She too was caring and compassionate and she was excellent.

After my examination and consultation, the doctor thought I would benefit from participating in a double blind study being conducted in the New York area. After much thought, I decided it would be in my best interest to do this. So, I filled in the paperwork and met with the study administrator and went to the medical center for a complete blood study. After, visiting the hospital, I was seen by a rheumatologist who monitored my blood levels on a regular basis. This was an all day process, but well worth it. The study was a double blind study using massive doses of Prednisone and Methotrexate and a placebo. Due to the rapid decrease in my hearing levels, I was immediately put on large doses of prednisone for one month. I endured all of the side effects of this drug only to realize it was not working. Once I began to taper down on Prednisone, small doses of Methotrexate were administered orally. Over time, the dosage was increased. Methotrexate is a chemotherapy drug used widely in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Medical scientists were hoping to find a common link with the use of this drug and hearing loss. The average age of men and women in the study was mid-thirties. I was one of the oldest.

Fortunately for me, the hearing levels in my right ear seemed to stabilize. Of course, I started to relax and felt with the use of Methotrexate and my BTE hearing aid, I thought I would be able to live my life fairly normally. However, what is normal for one is not normal for another. For example, I could no longer watch TV without captions, go to a movie, or see a Broadway show. Music was gone from my life. Conversations were difficult at best. I felt lost among friends and family and couldn't laugh at a jokes. I suppose over time, I isolated myself from the world. Some of the people in my life thought I had ''selective hearing'' while others thought I was ignoring them on purpose.

That happens to many of us with hearing disabilities. When we can't hear, we tend to shy away for fear of saying the wrong thing or not understanding what is being said. It is difficult and lonely.

As there was no significant improvement in my hearing, my neurotologist suggested a cochlear implant. I was resistant for the longest time. Each time the subject was approached I turned further away until he said to me ''You'll know when you've had enough.'' I gave much thought to his words. During the summer of 2002, I asked him, what the process was for being approved for cochlear implant surgery. We discussed what had to be done to be deemed a qualified patient for cochlear implant surgery. After that appointment, I took it upon myself and started the ball rolling to see if I was a candidate for surgery.

I had CT scans and I was evaluated by the Cochlear Implant Center in Manhattan. By the end of the testing period, I was told the cochlear implant would definitely benefit me. I made another appointment at the implant center and spoke with an audiologist about the different types of implants available.

What I found to be amazing was Of the entire team of people involved in this process, each and every one were comfortable and confident with what they do.

My neurotologist was right. By the time I saw him 8 weeks later, I told him I could not stand living this way and I was ready to embark on a new path to a better quality of life. I was satisfied knowing there was nothing left to do except go ahead with the surgery.

I knew that if I did not have cochlear implant surgery, I would struggle the rest of my life. At 52 years old, I felt I owed it to myself to live better and allow myself the chance to hear as best I was able.

My biggest supporters were my immediate family. Because of them, I was able to make this decision knowing it was the right decision, and I was in the best of hands.

It was recommended that a few weeks before surgery, that I receive a vaccination to prevent meningitis. It was painless and I had no side effects. I began to prepare myself emotionally for this surgery and patiently waited, counting the days until I could hear again.

It is now 3 months later, my surgery was successful and I'm on the road to healthy hearing again.

I had my first mapping (when the device was actually turned on) December 26 2002 and the second map was adjusted the next day.

My audiologist advised me that the first sound I would hear would be beeps as she began turning on the electrodes. She was right. From there, we went on to other programs that provided me with sound and clarity of language. I was advised that this would most likely be an emotional experience. A person gets used to being hearing impaired -- it becomes a part of them. Then, when hearing is returned, it is a miracle.

When my audiologist spoke to me after the processor was programmed, I could not respond with words. I was so shocked to hear her! All I could do was cry like a baby. All of the hoping, praying and wishing for something better had finally become a reality. It didn't matter that she first sounded like a 45 RPM record sped up to 78 RPM. What mattered was -- I could hear again!

I knew it was going to take time and I had to be patient. I knew I would have to concentrate on language and force myself to listen better.

I even had homework assignments to do! My audiologist recommended listening to books on tape while reading along with the book in front of me. I thought I would never accomplish this without frustration. But with the initial use of the Espirit BWP and the attachments, I have been successful with this assignment. The BWP is wonderful because it has 4 programs to choose from and allows the recipient to hear in a variety of situations. Of course, I was anxious to advance to the 3G. The 3G is the behind-the-ear (BTE) cochlear implant processor. I was told to be patient and learn how to function with the BWP.

I was on leave from work, due to the cochlear implant surgery from the day prior to surgery, until seven weeks later. When I returned to work, 7 weeks later with the BWP, I was able to function in the working world again.

How amazing this has been to me and others in my life. When I returned for another mapping on Valentine's Day, my audiologist said I was ready for the 3G (the BTE). She advised me that there would be some differences between the two processors, but there was no reason why I couldn't adapt to the 3G. She was right. I struggled with some things, but I learned to adapt to something new. I can listen to books on tape without having the book in front of me and I can listen to TV sometimes without captions and I am beginning to hear music. It is not the same as it once was, but I am hopeful that over time, music will return to my life. I can enjoy conversations with people and I do not feel lost and alone. I still prefer for people to look at me when speaking, which gives me a much better chance of hearing and understanding what is being said.

Due to my many successes over a short period of time, I am working up the courage to go to a movie. It has been 3 years since I saw my last movie. Something that is so easy for others to do has been nearly impossible for me. I am willing to challenge myself once again and attending a movie seems like the next step. Using the phone in my implanted ear is coming along slowly, but I am succeeding.

I used to think I was fine with just the use of my hearing aid, but I was wrong. After my first mapping post operatively, my audiologist did not want me to use my hearing aid in conjunction with the CI. She wanted me to get used to the sounds of the cochlear implant first. After my fourth mapping, she wanted me to start using my hearing aid in conjunction with the cochlear implant. This now allows me to have a broader range of hearing capability. It is easier to distinguish where sounds are coming from and helps me hear in stereo.

Now that I am recovering from my cochlear implant surgery, my doctors are tapering me off methotrexate. It is time to see whether my ''normal'' ear can stay at its current level of hearing. If it does not, I know I can hear with the implant alone. Of course, I would consider another implant if it were necessary since it is possible that the hearing in my non-implanted ear can deteriorate.

My cochlear implant experience has been very positive for me. I am grateful to have had the opportunity for the surgery and the technology. I strongly advocate for people who suffer from hearing loss and I wish they could be helped as much as I have.

Visit www.cochlear.com to visit the Cochlear Americas website.

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