HH/Beck: Hi Cheryl. Thanks for speaking with me today.
Konowitz: Hi Dr. Beck. Thanks for the opportunity.
HH/Beck: Cheryl, I know you have a very interesting story regarding your middle ear implants, but before we get to that, can you tell me a little about your hearing loss, and what happened prior to receiving the implants?
Konowitz: Sure thing. I have a degree in nursing and I have a degree in business. I used to do intensive care nursing until my hearing loss prevented me from really being able to listen through a stethoscope to breath and heart sounds. Once I got to the point that my hearing impacted my profession -- I knew I needed to do something! I left intensive care nursing about 1990. My left ear has always been a problem. Ive had a perforated ear drum on the left and have had multiple ear infections on that side. However, the primary loss on both ears is a sensorineural (nerve) loss on both ears, and that has been a hereditary situation. In fact it was getting worse, and it was at the point where I couldnt hear people if they were speaking from behind me, or if they came up to me on the street so I had to do something.
HH/Beck: Did you try hearing aids?
Konowitz: Yes, I did. I started with hearing aids in 1990, and I wore in-the-ear and behind-the-ear hearing aids. I was never very comfortable with hearing aids. Sometimes I felt like I was in a tunnel and I just found the experience to be frustrating. Of course the real dilemma was that I needed to hear louder, and the hearing aids did that for me, so I wore them, but again, I just never got real comfortable with them. I couldnt tell where the sounds were coming from and that was very disconcerting too. Probably the best hearing aids I wore were the digital behind-the-ears, and that really did help, but I just preferred not to wear hearing aids.
HH/Beck: How many years did you wear hearing aids?
Konwitz: It was about ten years. I got the Symphonix Vibrant SoundBridge middle ear implant in early 2001.
HH/Beck: Was it a tough decision to get the middle ear implant?
Konowitz: Yes it really was. I didnt want surgery, and there were no guarantees, and I was very apprehensive about the whole thing. But in looking back, it was the best decision.
HH/Beck: You are in a rather unique situation because you didnt just get one middle ear implant, you have elected to get two middle ear implants. Can you please tell me about that?
Konowitz: The first implant was early in 2001, and I was instantly thrilled with the sound quality and I have enjoyed the experience so much, that I sought a second implant. I have not regretted that decision at all. Having both ears working with the Vibrant SoundBridge has really been the best hearing I have had in decades and it has made a tremendous impact on my life. I really believe these implants have given me back my life.
HH/Beck: Can you tell me what the world sounds like with two middle ear implants?
Konowitz: I get asked that a lot. It seems to me like I have surround sound. I hear everything, and the sound is full and natural. For the year that I used one hearing aid on the right and one implant on the left, the implant side was always a better sound. But even though it was better, I really needed the sound from both ears to do well. I dont want to say the hearing aid side was bad, it wasnt at all bad, in fact the digital behind-the-ear was quite good, but in comparing the sounds day-to-day from the left and the right ear, the implant side provided a better sound, and it was more enjoyable for me.
HH/Beck: What is your perception in noisy surroundings like cocktail parties and weddings?
Konowitz: We are very social. We go out a lot and I get by pretty well. Unfortunately, my husband has a very soft voice, and that was always a real problem before I had the implants. Lots of times when I wore hearing aids his voice was just part of the noise and it was hard to understand him, which was very frustrating for him, and for me too! With the implants, I hear the background noise, and although I would prefer not to, its realistic. Noise is out there! I mean the noise is really part of the sound signal that everyone hears. But the sound quality through the Vibrant SoundBridge is good enough that when I concentrate, I am able to dismiss the background noise and really focus in on the speech sounds that Im trying to pay attention to most of the time. So when I am in noise, I hear the noise, but its not too bad, and it works out pretty well.
HH/Beck: Im glad you brought that up because a lot of people have unrealistic goals for noise reduction circuits in hearing aids. Noise is indeed a part of the background, and all of us would love to not hear the noise! But, as you indicated, even people with perfectly normal hearing hear noise and it is annoying. The issue often boils down to the fact that people with hearing loss are used to not hearing very much, and when they start wearing hearing aids, all the sounds come back to them instantly and sometimes the background noises can be overwhelming. I should note that new digital hearing aids, particularly those with directional microphones and noise reduction circuits can do a very good job at further reducing the background noise than the units available two to three years ago. Hearing aids and related technologies (such as middle ear implants and cochlear implants) are advancing in leaps and bounds, and as you noted, background noise has historically been one of the major problems. Another thing to help control noise, and probably the single most significant issue is the use of an FM system. Ill save that for another discussion on a different day, but FM systems are extremely effective in reducing background noise.
OK, back to your middle ear implants. If you were to tell someone the single biggest advantage of the middle ear implants, as compared to hearing aids, what would that be?
Konowitz: The biggest thing is the freedom. I can go out and be with people without worrying about whether I would be able to hear in different situations. I also think I have more freedom on the phone now. Even though the hearing aids were supposed to be phone compatible, they sometimes gave off terrific feedback and I had to remove the hearing aids to eliminate the feedback, and then the phone wasnt loud enough! With the Symphonix implants, I can just hold the phone up to my ear like I used to, and I hear fine, and there is no feedback. Another thing is that I like to snow ski. And I always worried about damaging or losing the hearing aids on the slope, or getting them wet, or wearing them under my hat without feedback. So now I can ski, and wear the hat, and theres no feedback, and I have no problem. Even if the processor falls off, which it hasnt, it has a little fish line string which would keep it from getting lost.
HH/Beck: So all-in-all, if you had to do it again, would you?
Konowitz: Absolutely. I feel like the Vibrant SoundBridge has given me back my life and I am very appreciative.
HH/Beck: Cheryl, thank you so much for your time. You have an interesting story and Im glad youre doing so well!
Konowitz: Thank you too Dr. Beck. I really enjoy reading the stories on Healthy Hearing and if my story is useful to other people, Im happy to share it.
For more information on middle ear implants, click here.
HH/Beck: Hi Cheryl. Thanks for speaking with me today.