Beck: Hi Carol. Its nice to finally meet you.
Burns: Hi Dr. Beck, nice to meet you too.
Beck: Carol, can you please start by telling me a little about your hearing loss and your hearing history?
Burns: Sure, I was not diagnosed until I was about 5 years old, in 1950. I was diagnosed with nerve deafness in both ears, and at that time it was about a 68 dB loss in both ears. My mother was an RN, a nurse, and she often spoke with the pediatrician, and others involved with our health care. She recalled telling the doctor when I was 2.5 years old that it seemed like I wasnt responding quite right, and he told her there was nothing wrong. He said I probably wasnt paying attention.
Beck: So your mom recognized the problem early on, and the pediatrician talked her out of her instinct! Actually, I recall reading years ago that when the mom thinks there is something wrong, there usually is! What was it that finally prompted a hearing evaluation?
Burns: When my brother was born, I was about 4.5 years old, the differences between us helped to make my hearing loss more evident. Once my mom was able to compare us, she knew something was wrong. Mom took me to the ear doctor and he tested me, and he sent me to the audiologist at the University, and I was tested and fitted with a hearing aid. It was an old style body-aid. I wore body-aids until I was in my early 40s. I did really well with body-aids, but it was so difficult in school. I didnt have any resources, helpers or assistantsit was just me and my hearing aid, getting by as a B student throughout school. It really was very hard.
Beck: Was your hearing stable at 68 dB through your school career?
Burns: No, by the time I was 15 it had deteriorated to 95 dB, which I think is a profound hearing loss.
Beck: Yes, thats correct. A 95 dB loss is considered a profound hearing loss. So you went for some 20 or more years with a hearing aid and a profound hearing lossso then, when did you get your cochlear implant?
Burns: November, 1996.
Beck: What was it that inspired you to get a cochlear implant at that time?
Burns: I was extremely frustrated. I had been following developments with cochlear implants, and I was finally convinced that I would do better with a cochlear implant than I was doing with my hearing aid. I went to many SHHH conventions where I compared myself to cochlear implant users. Finally, I was convinced they were hearing better than I was so I knew it was time to get a cochlear implant. I desperately wanted to hear better. So I decided to investigate more seriously. In 1995, I attended a SHHH convention and I remember learning that if the cochlear implant failed, reimplantation was an option, and I guess that was one of early concerns, What happens if the implant failed? Then I learned that the failure rate was well below 1 percent, so I was OK with that. Another issue for me, back in 1995 was the insurance issue. Fortunately, cochlear implants are pretty much covered everywhere. However, in my own situation, it was a specific exclusion 8 years ago. Anyway, I went ahead and got my cochlear implant through a clinical trial. It has been fantastic ever since.
Beck: Whats the best thing about the cochlear implant?
Burns: I can hear things now that I never heard before. The first thing I noticed right after I got the cochlear implant was the turn signal in the car! I had never heard that before. Later, that first night, I stayed in the hotel and I was wondering about the telephone would I be able to use the telephone with my cochlear implant? I was able to talk to my mother that first evening on the telephone!
Beck: I should point out that right now, at the moment were recording this interview, you are in Wisconsin, and I am in Texas, and yes indeed, you are using the telephone with your cochlear implant.
Burns: Sure, I am using it and I do pretty well with it too. I use the telecoil setting on my ESPrit 3G BTE speech processor and it works really well. The telecoil on the 3G is built in, so I dont have any additional gadgets to attach. With the telecoil I have the option of cutting out the background noise and focus on the phone conversation. I can also mix the telecoil with the microphone when I want to be able to hear background conversations. My microphone setting works well on the telephone as well, but I much prefer listening with the telecoil. Another major thing in my life, since getting the implant is that I have been promoted in my job, because I can interact with people more effectively, and because I can use the telephone easily.
Beck: How do you do in movie theaters?
Burns: I do really well there, but the movies are all too loud! The first movie I saw with the implant was Titanic. It was wonderful.
Beck: What about speech-in-noise situations, like noisy restaurants and cocktail parties?
Burns: I do very well there. When the background noise is really unbearable, its harder for me - but its also bad for people with normal hearing and people with hearing aids too! We recently went to a dinner theater and saw I Do, I Do. Just before we were seated in the theater, we were seated in the very noisy bar, where my husband and I were able to speak quietly to each other. I was able to understand him without lip-reading, while the crowd was yelling and cheering during the Packers and the Eagles game in the play offs. I was absolutely thrilled. I could have never done that with my hearing aids in this noisy environment!
Beck: Carol, I believe you recently received a second cochlear implant?
Burns: Yes, I got my second cochlear implant about three months ago, in October of 2003, and now that I have two implants, there is nothing that compares to the sounds I am now hearing! With one implant I understood more than 90% of the sentence tests and overall I probably understood about 70 or 80 percent of all sounds, But now with the two together, I usually get 100 percent understanding in almost every environment. The difference is day and night.
Beck: Which two cochlear implants do you have?
Burns: I have the Cochlear Nucleus 24 Straight Array on one side and I have the Nucleus 24 Contour self curling array on the other side.
Beck: Carol, suppose that you had to go back to only one cochlear implant, what would be the differences in your day-to-day communication?
Burns: I would absolutely have to put a lot more effort into hearing, it would be more stressful and more strenuous, and I would have to go back to lip-reading much more. One cochlear implant is amazing, it is so much better than not having a cochlear implant, but having two is almost like normal hearing. In other words, I can tell who is speaking just by the sound of their voice. Its amazing. I can hear and understand easily, it is just wonderful. I tell everyone who is a candidate for cochlear implantation to go for it. This same miracle can possibly happen for you!
Beck: Carol, its a joy to speak with you. Thank you for your time this morning.
Burns: Thank you too, Dr. Beck. Its been fun to share my experiences with you.
Beck: Hi Carol. Its nice to finally meet you.