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Health Team

Woman Credits Double Cochlear Implants for Renewed Life

Posted July 13, 2007

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— Cochlear implants allow many people who are deaf to hear. The devices have been successful in one ear. Now, more doctors are using them in both ears.

Candace Wilcox was 14 years old when she started going completely deaf.

"It was really frustrating. I wouldn't go out alone. I made everyone come with me when I did go out. I would just look at everyone,"she said. "If you didn't look at me and I couldn't see your lips, I had no idea what you were saying to me."

Wilcox tried all kinds of treatments but nothing worked. She had lost all hope of ever hearing again, but then she had cochlear implants placed in both ears.

Cochlear implants have been around for 30 years. Over the past decade, though, research has begun to confirm the benefits of implanting the devices in both ears.

The cochlea is deep within the ear, and damage to it can stop or diminish the sound. To fix the problem, surgeons place electrodes in the cochlea and attach them to a receiver just under the skin.

When a transmitter is placed outside the head on the receiver, the sound begins.

"They hear better in terms of sound localization and speech delivery clearly in very noisy environments including parties and restaurants," said otolaryngolist Dr. Shao Weiru.

Wilcox has regained more than 97 percent of her hearing in both ears, and she said she's also gotten her life back.

It's an incredible difference. I actually want to walk by myself. I'm not scared to go to parties," she said.

Wilcox said one of the greatest sounds she's looking forward to are her wedding vows when she gets married next year.

Doctors will choose single or double cochlear implants based on whether the person is completely deaf or has some residual hearing in one ear.

17 Comments

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  • ewebb3 Jul 15, 2007

    I think one thing we can all say is the insurance companies need to step up and start recognizing the need for healthcare coverage for people with hearing impairments. To Skepticalghoul my daughter was implanted at age 6, she was born deaf with a Cochlear Nucleus 22. My older daughter who was also born deaf was implanted at 10 with the Advanced Bionic device. My youngest daughter has done much better and can discern certain words on the radio and can talk on the phone in a conversation that is not very involved. It is good that you are researching! I would recommend if you haven't already speaking directly with people who were hearing and lost it and have received cochlear implants, my experience is only congenital deafness. Good Luck!

  • Skepticghoul Jul 15, 2007

    ewebb3 -at- nc -dot- rr -dot- com I' m having to consider an implant myself. I've been getting by on residual hearing and custom hearing aids for twenty years now, since college. I've recently had to retire very early on medical. Deafness also brings a host of other health problems due to the increased stress a person lives with - high blood pressure for one. I'm uninsurable now, so I count myself very lucky to get Medicare at this age.

    I'm going to a seminar this fall on implants. Unless the technology has become so good I can hear 97% without visual cues and miraculously understand people on the phone, I will wait until more R&D is done and a more advanced unit comes out. Unlike hearing aids, you can't try on an implant and see if it works for you. If I go for it and it doesn't work, I've lost what little residual hearing I was getting by on. I don't know if I could live with that. This is the part of these warm, fuzzy stories the media doesn't report - the risks.

  • Rolling Along Jul 15, 2007

    I am borderline "legally" deaf. I was prescribed hearing aids, however at around $1500 each and no insurance coverage for them they are too expensive to be replacing on a regular basis. Mine lasted barely 4 months due to my working out of doors and sweating. The sweat damaged them and of course that is not covered under warranty. The cochlear implants are good, but they are not for all cases. In my case the hearing gain would be very marginal... and IMHO not worth the money.

  • ewebb3 Jul 14, 2007

    I do believe cochlear implants benefit the deaf. In the case where a person is profoundly deaf and very little residual hearing is there, they help more than a hearing aid. Note that this woman lost her hearing starting at 14. People who are post-lingually deaf do much better with cochlear implants. Rush Limbaugh is a prime example. I just think we need to tell the whole story. Also insurance companies and lawmakers need to do something to help those in need of prosthetic devices such as hearing aids. An insurance company will cover re constructive surgery for a mastectomies (and they should) but they won't cover hearing aids. People need to be able to hear. Why can't it all be covered?

  • ewebb3 Jul 14, 2007

    I would not recommend Advanced Bionic (technology advances are slow) but we have had great luck with Cochlear Corporation. One group had ceased implanting patients with Advanced Bionic last I knew. I love those commercials that state "don't be embarrassed to wear a hearing aid...." People aren't embarrassed- they can't afford them. A hearing aid for $1,000.00 would be VERY hard to find.

  • Skepticghoul Jul 14, 2007

    mark -at- la2our -dot- com you are so right. The receiver is the expensive part. American Bionic has the best receiver and it costs over $10,000 (for one ear). That's not counting the surgery. One implant can cost over $100,000 and it will have to be replaced in a few years. You are right about the quality of sound. It's like an old drive in speaker. What the story didn't tell people was, the procedure itself destroys what natural hearing a person has left. What the story didn't say was how the 97% of regained hearing was determined. Was it a conductive test or a test combined with visual clues (lipreading). If so, the average is about the same with hearing aids.

    FYI - hearing aids now cost anywhere from $1000 to $6000 each. Hearing aids are NOT covered by insurance either and must be replaced every 3 years or so.

  • Poleaux Jul 14, 2007

    Amen ewebb3...

    This procedure is not only outrageously expensive, the sound quality is about as good as listening to someone talking to you from a mickey mouse walkie-talkie.

    The audiology industry is a racket. The technology is overpriceds and under par. Nothing is water-proof and usually needs to be replaced or repaired within 4 years.

    Cochlear implants are useful for only a small portion of the hearing-impaird ppopulation, but they won't tell you that. They want as many people as possible to undergo this treatment, then the money will roll in for them.

    Don't let this "warm and fuzzy" report fool you. There's no cure for deafness and this is only a band-aid.

  • educgrad Jul 14, 2007

    so happy for her!

  • ewebb3 Jul 14, 2007

    I should have said that once a patient turns 21 if they are still disabled, Medicaid does not cover the expenses.

  • ewebb3 Jul 14, 2007

    This procedure is very expensive. It isn't only the surgery. Depending on which manufacturer you have you have accessories that are very expensive if they need to be replaced. You have to pay for the insurance, any additional warranty once the original warranty expires. The external device alone is $6,000 last check. We recently found out that the internal part of the cochlear implant is good for about 10-15 years and then needs to be replaced (another surgery). They are implanting children under one year old- they will need several replacements. North Carolina Medicaid does not cover cochlear implants or their supplies. So unless you are a child and can get in under a grant program you have to have some money for this. I think of all the young people who have been implanted who start out in entry level positions who won't be able to have their device replaced for a long time. Yes, I speak from experience!

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