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A Sound Decision: First Deaf Miss America Hears With Cochlear Implant

In the seven years since she was crowned Miss America, Heather Whitestone McCallum has journeyed around the world, authored three books and started a family. On August 7, John K. Niparko, M.D., surgically implanted Heather with a Nucleus 24 Contour' cochlear implant at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. On September 19, when the device was turned on for the first time, Heather embarked on yet another journey - entering the world of sound.

Heather decided last year to get a cochlear implant because she wanted to hear her family's voices, make further strides in achieving her goals and experience the hearing world. With the implant, she plans to help raise awareness among the hearing-impaired community about the opportunities available for improving speech and language.

On September 19, Heather returned to Johns Hopkins to be fitted with the external part of her cochlear implant, the ESPrit' 3G ear-level speech processor, and have the device turned on for the first time. When her Nucleus 24 Contour cochlear implant was activated, Heather experienced overwhelming emotion as she realized she was hearing sounds more clearly than she had before. Her performance with the cochlear implant is expected to continue improving over time.

"Hearing my audiologist's clapping hands when the implant was turned on brought unimaginable joy to my heart," said Heather Whitestone McCallum. "I'm looking forward to hearing all of the new sounds I will encounter with the help of my device and sharing my experience with other hearing-impaired individuals who could benefit from this miraculous technology."

Heather's story

At 18 months of age, Heather was rushed to the hospital with a dangerously high fever from the Haemophilus influenza virus. She was only hours from death when the doctors administered powerful antibiotics that saved her life. But several months later, Heather tested profoundly deaf in both ears. The doctors concluded that this was a result of the virus, the antibiotics or both.

Heather had been inspired by her family to work hard and never stop trying. Without an interpreter, she attended public school until she was 12 years old, and then enrolled in the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. In 1991, she graduated from public high school and went on to attend Jacksonville State University.

Since she was crowned Miss America, Heather has been traveling across the county giving motivational speeches to corporations, schools and government agencies about overcoming challenges to achieve your dreams. She served as a former executive board member on the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and is now a member of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council. She also spearheaded the nation's largest multimedia public service campaign to identify early hearing loss, and was a spokesperson for the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education. In addition, Heather has authored three books, Listening With My Heart, Believing The Promise and a third book, Let God Surprise You, which is expected out in the fall.

About Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants bypass damaged hair cells in the inner ear, providing useful hearing and improved communication to those who receive little or no benefit from hearing aids. The Nucleus 3 system is the latest development in cochlear implant technology. The Nucleus 3 system can be customized to meet the particular needs of recipients' lifestyles and to maximize hearing performance. It is the only cochlear implant approved for use in profoundly deaf infants as young as 12 months of age and in adults with severe to profound bilateral hearing loss. In addition to the Nucleus 24 Contour cochlear implant, the Nucleus 3 system includes:

  • A choice of two speech processors: ESPrit 3G, a speech processor worn behind the ear. The SPrint', a body worn speech processor.
  • Nucleus NRT' 3.0 (Neural Response Telemetry). Third Generation Neural Response Telemetry which provides information concerning the hearing nerves response to stimulation by the implant, and is particularly useful in very young children.

About Cochlear Americas

Denver-based Cochlear America is the U.S. headquarters for Cochlear Limited, the world leader in cochlear implant technology. Cochlear is a winner of the 2001 Medical Design Excellence Awards for its design of the Nucleus 24 Contour' cochlear implant and the FDA Commissioner's Special Citation for the development and commercialization of the Nucleus 24 Multichannel Auditory Brainstem implant.

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