A Personal Journey to Cochlear Implantation

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My name is Jonathan O’Dell, and I’m the Assistive Technology and Training Specialist at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

When Hearing Aids Were No Longer Enough

I became ill with meningitis at age 10 and I lost my hearing quickly. I remember wondering why I couldn’t understand the radio or television anymore, but it wasn’t until a few months later that my father thought to have my hearing tested and we found out I would be needing hearing aids.

I used a body aid at first, a big box with a wire snaking to my earpiece; then I wore smaller behind-the-ear types for many years. Unfortunately my hearing kept getting worse, and soon even the most powerful aids didn’t help me anymore. That’s when I decided to see if a Cochlear Implant (CI) would help me.

What Is A Cochlear Implant?

CI‘s are designed to help people with severe nerve damage – “sensorineural hearing loss” is the medical term – by taking over the functions of the damaged cochlea. That’s the part of the ear where speech and sounds are received as vibrations and sent to the brain as electrical signals.

When the cochlea is damaged the brain doesn’t get the full signal anymore, which means that while you may hear something you might not understand what it is, or what someone is saying to you, even though you can hear them speaking.

A CI requires surgery and is done under full anesthesia, so I asked a lot of questions about safety and effectiveness from my surgeon and his team. They told me it was a safe procedure, problems were fairly rare, and that while they couldn’t guarantee my hearing would be better, they were pretty sure it would help me quite a bit. So I decided to go for it, and my left ear was implanted in the winter of 2011.

Internal Component of Chochlear Implant

Internal Component of Chochlear Implant

After The Surgery

It took me less than two weeks to recover from the surgery, and just a few weeks more to get used to the initially very strange way that everything sounded. After I had gotten used to it, I was tested to see how much it helped.  I had improved from 0% speech discrimination (understanding words without speechreading) to almost 60%.

I did so well that I decided to get my right ear implanted also, which was done in February of 2012. The surgery was more complex this time, and the recovery period longer, but the results were equally impressive.

Is A CI Right For You?

If you notice that even a really strong hearing aid isn’t helping you anymore, maybe it’s time to look into getting a CI for yourself. You’ll have to undergo several tests and doctor’s visits to see if you are a candidate. The process takes a long time, but it was absolutely worth it for me and many other late deafened adults I’ve talked to who also went for it.

External Component of Chochlear Implant

External Component of Chochlear Implant

I’m much more confident now in approaching anyone, anywhere to have a conversation. My hearing aids just amplified sounds and didn’t make them any easier to understand, but making sounds easier to understand is what CI‘s are designed to do. The implants are only getting better; they keep getting smaller, and at least one manufacturer has come up with a waterproof CI for people who want to hear while on or in the water.

If you have personal questions for me, I’ll be happy to answer them if I can. Contact me at Jonathan.ODell@MassMail.state.ma.us

Want to learn more? Check out the Food and Drug Administration’s Cochlear Impant Information.

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