A Personal Journey To Cochlear Implantation
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.
I became ill with meningitis when I was pretty young, 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 me tested for my hearing 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. After a while, those stopped working well for me because my hearing was getting worse with every year, and I decided to see if a Cochlear Implant 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.
A CI requires surgery, and it 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 ear was implanted in the winter of 2011.
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, and I had improved from 0% speech discrimination ( understanding words without speechreading ) to over 50%. I did so well that I decided to get my right ear implanted also, and that was done in February of 2012. The surgery was more complex this time, and the recovery period longer, but the results were equally impressive.
When should YOU think about a Cochlear Implant?
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, so it does take awhile to do, but it was absolutely worth it for me and most other late deafened adults I’ve talked to who have had it done. I’m much more confident now approaching anyone, anywhere, to have a conversation with them, than I ever was with my hearing aids, because those just amplified sounds and didnt make them any easier to understand, which the CI’s do. And 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.
Who are the manufacturers?
There are currently three major Cochlear Implant manufacturers today. They are, in alphabetical order:
Cochlear Americas ( Cochlear Corporation )
I do advise anyone thinking about getting a CI to discuss, in as much detail as possible, with their surgeon, what the different features and benefits of the different manufacturers and models are. You will be living with your device for quite some time, so it makes sense to know what you’re getting into.
Who pays for the surgery and the devices?
Most insurance plans that do not exclude pre-existing conditions should cover cochlear implants. You may be responsible for co-payments and deductibles just like you would with any other health related procedure. Your insurance plan may also cover the cost of accessories and supplies, such as rechargeable CI batteries, since these do tend to wear out after several years. Please contact your healthcare provider directly, or ask your prospective CI center because they probably can tell you from previous experience what is covered by certain plans and what is not. There is also some information on manufacturer websites about health insurance coverages.
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 Ci information.