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My Cochlear Implant Experience

Tacoma, Washington

Cochlear Implant surgery is fairly well known by the surgeons and the audiologists that deal with it all the time. Afterall, cochlear implants have been FDA approved for some 20 years, and they have been around in various forms for some 50 years! In fact, cochlear implants (CIs) are probably somewhat routine for the professionals that deal with it daily.

Nonetheless, for me, it was anything but routine!

Deciding to get a CI represented a major voyage into the unknown. I knew it could be great, I reasoned, emboldened to go explore it by the success stories of people I knew who had been implanted. But, it could also fail, with a high price tag not the least of which could potentially be the loss of residual hearing in the implanted ear.

Warnings not to get ones expectations too high were easy to discount, as only a tiny percentage of cochlear implants do not work the way they are supposed to, usually because of ear structure problems.

Successful results vary greatly, but they depend on a number of factors, such as; the nature (type and degree) of the hearing loss, the strength of the desire to improve ones hearing, the time between the hearing loss and the cochlear implant (i.e., the duration of deafness)I knew I wasnt getting just another hearing aid to help me offset the progressive hearing loss I had experienced over 20 years. Having gone through six hearing aids over the last 20 years, I wanted to try something else!

I wanted to dramatically improve my hearing. Hearing loss was restricting my activities. I dearly wanted to do something about it.

Paving the way for a decision, I gobbled up everything I could find on the web about cochlear implants. Each of the three major manufacturers made persuasive cases, not only for the devices they were hawking, but also for the potential benefits of getting a cochlear implant, any implant.

I read their brochures and was left with this remarkable thought: an implant could give me back some of the high frequency sounds that I had lost sounds that were not getting through to my brain. Ive since learned that implants are in a class by themselves, able to do something that hearing aids cannot do, bring back lost sounds. A cochlear implant is the only device that can partially restore a lost sense, the sense of hearing.

Those missing high frequencies underpinned many of the consonants needed to comprehend the spoken word. Speech was becoming increasingly incomprehensible to me. I didnt need a comprehensive series of tests to demonstrate that -- Medicare did!!

The test results confirmed my eligibility for a cochlear implant.

The surgery was performed in June, 2001. The CI was turned on that July. The results were spectacular. I heard birds for the first time. I could talk to friends and family without asking them for numerous repeats to enable me to grasp what they were trying to say. Each week unfolded better than the week before.

My audiologist explained: You are teaching your brain new tricks. Each new learning experience was helping the brain build a platform for the next advance. After a couple of months, my hearing loss, with the cochlear implant, tested in the 30 decibel range, compared to the 90 decibel pre-implant hearing loss. Overall sentence comprehension with the cochlear implant was recorded as exceeding 95%.

Three years later, I still wonder at the implants ability to restore lost hearing. I feed it batteries and have periodic program adjustment to keep pace with my brain. But it has become an accepted part of me.

My cochlear implant is a Nucleus 24 with the Esprit 3-G speech processor. It really does the job for me a great job keeping this 86 year-old actively engaged in lifes pursuits.

Do I have any second thoughts? Not really, although I wonder why I waited so long.

Ben W. Gilbert, is a member of the board of the Washington State SHHH (Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People) and was recently elected as a trustee of national SHHH. Ben is a retired journalist, a native of New York City who lived in Washington DC for 43 years until 1984 when he moved to Tacoma WA.

For more information on Cochlear Implants, visit www.cochlear.com.

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