Hadassah

The Miracle of Cochlear Implants: Enabling Deaf Children and Adults to Hear

Monday, May 6 2013

Adiel, who lost his hearing when he contracted meningitis at the age of six months, can speak, enjoy music, and develop language skills, similar to his peers, thanks to successful cochlear implant surgery at the Hadassah Medical Center.

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A small, complex electronic device, a cochlear implant has an external portion that picks up and analyzes sound and an internal portion which is surgically placed under the skin behind the ear to send impulses through electrodes to the auditory nerve and then to the brain. "It is the only manmade device that is connected to the central nervous system, and its impact has been enormous," relates Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist Prof. Josef Elidan, former head of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, where the cochlear implant team "resides."

Adiel's mother, Bracha Moyal, wrote to Hadassah to express her appreciation. In her letter, she explained:

"We were devastated and felt helpless. Just at that point, God sent his angels. We were referred to the cochlear implant team at Hadassah Hospital-Ein Kerem. We were treated with empathy, care, and professionalism. We felt that we had a shoulder to cry on and assistance to move on. They strengthened us so that we would not fall into despair.

"Dr. Michal Kaufman and the audiology staff answered our questions and were available for us any hour of the day. When I think back to that difficult time, I smile. What should have been a severely traumatic event was transformed into an experience that was challenging, yet bearable.

"Today, our Adiel is almost two years old. He understands very much and speaks in two-word sentences. He loves music and will sing along with his favorite songs. He is a happy child and we are happy also knowing that he will be able to develop speech and language similar to his peers.

"Words aren't enough to thank the team at Hadassah for all they have done. We hope that they will continue their blessed work for many years to come."

More than 550 people have benefited from Hadassah's expertise in cochlear implantation--babies who were born deaf; children like Adiel, who lost their hearing due to illness; and adults whose hearing deteriorated as they grew older. Hadassah's first cochlear implant patient was an adult who had lost his hearing," reports Prof. Elidan, who performed the operation. "I had just come back from the United States where I had been trained in the procedure," he recalls. "In an operation that took several hours, I implanted a device that had one channel and one electrode. Today, it takes considerably less time and the implant has 24 electrodes."

The surgery, however, is only one part of the process. Following surgery, patients require rehabilitation because "without rehabilitation, the implant is less effective," explains Miriam Adler, Coordinator of Hadassah's Cochlear Implant Program. "We hear with our ears and our brains," says Haya Levi, Chair of the Department's Speech and Learning Center, "but the brain is the star of the show." A month after the internal segment is implanted, the external part is connected. Then, the Center's staff begins to train the individual to speak or to retrieve speech.

"The implant provides sound--a great deal of sound," Ms. Levi says. "People who experience progressive hearing loss remember how speech sounds. Our job is to teach them how to distinguish among the sounds and how to filter them, how to identify words and, sometimes, how to speak on the phone. It takes about six months for people to begin feeling comfortable with the equipment."

Children who are born deaf, on the other hand, have no auditory memory. After receiving the implants, they have to be taught how to speak as well as how to hear. There is no age barrier to implants, Prof. Elidan reports, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow the procedure for children under the age of one. "One of my patients," he says, "was 85. Even when there are technical problems like damage to the nerve fibers and very little residual hearing, we have special techniques that can overcome the problems."

Summing up the impact of cochlear implants, Ms. Adler comments, "This technology completely revolutionizes peoples' lives."

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